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Zoonoses are infections or diseases that can be transmitted directly or indirectly between animals and humans, for instance by consuming contaminated foodstuffs or through contact with infected animals.

The severity of these diseases in humans varies from mild symptoms to life-threatening conditions.

Food-borne zoonotic diseases are caused by consuming food or drinking water contaminated by pathogenic (disease-causing) micro-organisms such as bacteria and their toxins, viruses and parasites.

They enter the body through the gastrointestinal tract where the first symptoms often occur.

Many of these micro-organisms are commonly found in the intestines of healthy food-producing animals. The risks of contamination are present from farm to fork and require prevention and control throughout the food chain. Food can become contaminated at different stages of the food chain.

At the farm:

Animal feed can be contaminated with bacteria such as Salmonella which can cause infection in animals and potentially lead to human infection from derived food products

Parasites may infect food producing animals

Milk can be contaminated by coming into contact with for example faeces or environmental dust

Animal skin and fur can be contaminated by faeces and environment

Eggs and different vegetables can also be contaminated at the farm

During slaughter

Meat can be contaminated by coming into contact with intestinal contents or animal skin

During further processing

Micro-organisms present in another raw agricultural product or on food contact surfaces may contaminate food

Infected humans handling food may contaminate food

In the kitchen

Microbes can be transferred from one food to another by improper use of kitchen utensils or by infected humans handling the foodSafe handling of raw meat and other raw food ingredients, thorough cooking and good kitchen hygiene can prevent or reduce the risk posed by these micro-organisms.

Common food-borne diseases

Common micro-organisms that cause food-borne diseases are:

Bacteria

Campylobacter (causing campylobacteriosis), Salmonella (causing salmonellosis), Listeria (causing listeriosis), Pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli), Yersinia

Bacterial toxins

Toxins of Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens, Clostridium botulinum and Bacillus cereu.

Viruses

Calicivirus (including norovirus), rotavirus, hepatitis A virus, hepatitis E virus

Parasites

Trichinella, Toxoplasma, Cryptosporidium, Giardia

The infectious agent which causes Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle can also be transmitted to humans through consumption of contaminated meat causing variant Creuzfeldt-Jakob disease. Unlike other food-borne diseases which are spread by micro-organisms, BSE is caused by a prion, which is an abnormal form of a protein (known as PrPc).

For more information on each disease, simply select the disease of choice from the drop down menu or list on the right.

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