The International Union of Food Science and Technology has released its latest Scientific Information Bulletin (SIB). This document examines which populations are at the highest risk for foodborne illness, along with solutions outlining how the food and technology industries at large can help to prevent such illnesses from affecting the most vulnerable of consumers.
Neonates, Infants and Children
This group tends to be one of the most vulnerable because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. The World Health Organization estimates that 760,000 deaths a year in children under that age of five are caused by diarrheal disease attributed mainly to contaminated food and water.
The susceptibility of pregnant women is mainly due to the mother’s immune system being overpowered by the fetuses paternal genetic traits. Another vulnerability is the body’s increase in progesterone, which makes foodborne illness more common amongst this group. Listeria monocytogenes and Toxoplasma gondii are the most commonly reported in pregnant women.
Older persons are extremely vulnerable due to their natural decline in cell function and efficiency. This can be traced to low gastric acidity and a reduction of peristalsis. Other factors that make the elderly susceptible to foodborne illness include pre-existing medical conditions like diabetes, as well as prolonged use of antibiotics, nutrient deficiencies, chronic illness and physical disabilities. Futhermore, increased risk among the elderly is even higher with their handling of food, traveling habits and living in long-term care facilities. In the U.S., the elderly (age 65+) have suffered the highest death rates for all foodborne pathogens except Shigella. It is suspected that in the Western hemisphere, aging populations will continue to be disproportionately affected by foodborne illness until and unless better food safety prevention measures are put in place by major public health officials.
There are four types of patients who immunocompromised patients who suffer the most when it comes to foodborne illness: HIV patients, blood transfusion recipients, chemotherapy patients and those who take certain medications for chronic diseases. Because these patients are dealing with severe health issues, it makes the detection and management of foodborne illness even more difficult.
The SIB also documents which foodborne illnesses have the highest fatality rates. In order, they are:
- Listeria monocytogenes
- Vibrio paraheomolyticus
- Enterohemorrhagic escherichia coli, or EHEC