Friday, December 2, 2011

Your all-time favourites

I have just reviewed the most common search terms resulting in visits to this blog.

By far the most common has been "Coliforms in food".  This has been a regular search since I started writing Safe Food in 2006, but has perhaps appeared more frequently since the Escherichia coli O104:H4 outbreak in Europe.

Coliforms are used as "indicator organisms" to show whether the food has been processed under hygienic conditions.  Presence of these bacteria mean that the food has potentially been contaminated with faecal material and hence faecal organisms, but to confirm this, we look for Escherichia coli presence in the food.

Surprisingly, the next most common search has been "Safety of Probiotics".  Probiotic bacteria are those that confer some benefit on the host.  Thus many foods, such as yoghurt, contain live bacteria that may colonise the gut of the consumer and confer some benefit.  These bacteria are often lactic acid bacteria.  Many claims have been made for the benefits of consumption, though there are some indications that administration to critically ill patients with acute pancreatitis may have deleterious effects.  There is also some evidence that administration to infants under 6 months of age may render them more prone to development of sensitivity to allergens.  For the majority of consumers, however, probiotics will not be hazardous and may be beneficial.

Do not confuse probiotics with "prebiotics".   These were so named by Marcel Roberfroid in 1995, who later wrote the definition: "A prebiotic is a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon host well-being and health."  A major class of prebiotic is soluble fibre.

Much lower down the list are "Listeria in vegetables" and "Safety of chicken".  There has been a small spike in Listeria searches, probably as a result of recent recalls and the cantaloupe outbreak in USA that has killed approximately 29 people.  The incidence of listeriosis is very low and victims are usually neonates, the elderly and those people with compromised immune systems, but this outbreak seems to have been particularly dangerous.  Chicken has made regular appearances in the news, either being a vehicle for Salmonella or Campylobacter.  The incidence of Campylobacter infections in New Zealand has dropped significantly since the introduction of more stringent controls and biosecurity systems.

One new search now appearing is a bit disturbing: "Will eating spoiled food make you sick?".  I have previously written on this after receiving a direct question from a reader.  Is the increased interest a result of hardship in the community, or merely a thirst for knowledge?  I hope it is the latter.

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