Every nasty thing that can grow on food can be potentially dangerous and sometimes even deadly.
Be it cooked, raw or processed, food in any form can potentially harbor molds, fungi, various parasites as well as harmful bacteria and the toxins they might produce.
We need to have at least some basic knowledge about those dangerous food agents if we are to protect ourselves and maintain good food hygiene.
Below you can find some useful info about each possible food hygiene hazards:
Molds and Fungi
All molds are fungi while not all fungi are molds and while both are invaluable in the circle of life they can be really dangerous to our own lives.
Molds and fungi are arguably the least dangerous things you will find in your food, but they are responsible for most food spoilages and can potentially be very dangerous to your personal health and a real food hygiene hazard.
Many molds are harmless and will only make the food taste bad, while others are quite more dangerous. One good example of a “mostly harmless” mold is the bread mold.
However there are some fungi that create toxins known as mycotoxins. One such type of toxins is the Aflatoxins which can affect cereals as well as nuts and especially peanuts. Aflatoxins are highly toxic and among the most carcinogenic substances known to man, so don’t take molds and fungi lightly!
There are thousands of molds and fungi species and at least some of them can grow in harsh conditions such as low pH or the temperatures of a typical fridge.
The good news
Molds and fungi might be tough but they typically require lots of humidity to grow and they also grow rather slowly. Therefore in many household cases there is a chance that food is already either eaten or thrown away before any molds or fungi grow on it.
Moreover, when and if dangerous mycotoxins are present in foods their concentrations are usually far below the recommended safe levels, so make sure you eat foods with cereals or nuts fresh!
Parasites are tiny organisms that live symbiotically within a host. Many parasites have multiple life stages and “travel” from host to host during their lifetime.
As a lot of parasites have domestic animals such as cows and pigs as their intermediate hosts humans easily contract them by ingesting their meat.
One good example of a nasty parasite infection is the tapeworm infection. The tapeworm larvae can be contracted by eating raw or undercooked meat. When ingested they hook themselves in the digestive tract, where they can live for years, eating off your food and growing into a very large adult tapeworm.
If you are not convinced that parasites are a real risk to food hygiene you can read more on tapeworm infection in its respective article in Wikipedia.
The good news
Parasites can only be found in raw or undercooked food. Therefore it is generally safer to overcook rather than undercook your food and generally when in doubt, just cook it a bit more to avoid parasites.
Harmful bacteria and the toxins they produce
Harmful bacteria are arguably the most dangerous of all food hygiene hazards. Bacteria are microorganisms that can be found in almost everything, even within our own bodies. Some types of bacteria can be very harmful if ingested in large concentrations through spoiled food.
What is even more frightening is that some bacteria can survive heat processing by creating a tiny spore out of themselves, which will grow again into a full bacterium if given the chance and suitable environment.
However, possibly the worst thing about bacteria is that some of them produce toxins, including the most harmful neurotoxin ever discovered. Those toxins can only be destroyed in extreme temperatures and therefore are unaffected by cooking. While everything we discussed so far, parasites, fungi and bacteria can die with enough cooking, you literally have to burn your food by cooking in unrealistically high temperatures for an unrealistic amount of time to get rid of toxins.
Most common of all harmful food bacteria are the coliform bacteria which include the well-known E.Coli in its various types while arguably the most dangerous one is Clostridium botulinum which under suitable circumstances can produce Botulinum toxin, the most powerful neurotoxin known to man.
The good news
All harmful bacteria are killed by cooking and no harmful bacteria can grow on food that is stored in the refrigerator.
Also, bacteria need ideal conditions to produce their toxins. Therefore by making sure you maintain good food hygiene standards you can guarantee that no bacteria will produce toxins in your food.
So between good cooking and efficient food storage you can maintain good food hygiene and have little to fear from bacteria and their nasty toxins.