Montville, Thomas J. Department of Food Science, Cook College, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Last reviewed:October 2016
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- Microbial ecology of foods
- Historical pathogens
- Emerging pathogens
- Beneficial foodborne organisms
- Links to Primary Literature
- Additional Readings
A subdiscipline in the field of microbiology concerned with the study of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that grow in or are transmitted by foods. Food microbiology is a broad field that can include not only microbiology, but also sanitation, epidemiology, biochemistry, engineering, statistics, and mathematical modeling. Although microorganisms (in particular, bacteria) are frequently associated with food spoilage and food poisoning, some species preserve foods through fermentation or produce food ingredients. Some people dismiss food poisoning as a minor annoyance. In reality, the suffering and economic losses stemming from foodborne pathogens are substantial, but they are often hidden. Annual economic losses from foodborne pathogens are extremely high (Fig. 1). For example, in the United States, Salmonella bacteria, which cause an average of 40,000 reported cases annually (with unreported cases possibly amounting to more than 1 million per year) and 400–600 deaths, are responsible for about a quarter of these losses. Individual outbreaks of foodborne diseases can affect thousands of people. Many outbreaks are predictable and preventable through good sanitation, preservatives, thermal processing, and refrigeration. More than half, however, are of unknown etiology, are poorly understood, and may be caused by new pathogens. See also: Food; Food engineering; Food fermentation; Food manufacturing; Food poisoning; Food preservation; Food safety and foodborne illness; Food science; Foodborne disease; Microbiology; Pathogen
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