Advisor at Japan Food Research Laboratories
Microorganisms are trying hard at life---or it seems more accurate to say that microorganisms are fighting for their own lives. Without microorganisms, material cycle on earth, especially that of animals and plants, may not be promoted. If pathogenic microorganisms or toxins produced by microorganisms are put into our mouths along with food, they can cause food poisoning.
Table 1 Food poisoning incidents in Japan(Year: 2013, Population: 127.3 million)
|Cause||Number of cases||Number of sufferers|
|Natural poison||71||185(killed 1**)|
*histamine poisoning **mushroom poisoning
In Table 1, food poisoning incidents that happened in Japan in 2013 are shown by each causative substance.
The numbers of cases in the table are only those reported by doctors who diagnosed the patients, investigated by the health centers, and then confirmed by the center as food poisoning. Therefore, much more food poisoning cases seem to be caused in reality.
As has happened every year, microorganisms account for the large portion of the causative substances of food poisoning in 2013. Food poisoning caused by bacteria, virus, and parasite (such as subvisible protozoa) is sometimes collectively called “microbial food poisoning”. Although the data in the above table does not include unexplained cases, 88% of 931 cases (96% of 20,802 sufferers) are microbial food poisoning.
Chemical substances that cause food poisoning are predominantly histamine with involvement of histamine-producing microorganisms (Figure 1).
Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry of Japan classifies this type of food poisoning as chemical because histamine causes food poisoning. Along with the tightening of regulations on histamine in the United States and other countries around the world, recalls of mass-produced foods owing to histamine have been reported as Figure 1 shows.
As microorganisms are involved in histamine formation, it is getting more important in food quality control to monitor microbial activities. It is indispensable to learn more about microorganisms and take countermeasures against them in order to realize stable supply and procurement of safe foods.
We tend to think we are detached from microorganisms, but the human body is a perfect symbiosis environment for 60 to 100 trillion human cells and almost the same number of microorganisms. Hopefully we can live our lives in good health by maintaining co-existence and co-prosperity with microorganisms. There are 120 million people living in Japan, and 7.2 billion on the globe. Although these may not be considered abounding compared to the number of microorganisms on earth, humans possess great wisdom and technology and our responsibility is truly significant.
References (all in Japanese)
Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare: Preliminary list of food poisoning incidents
Japan Food Research Laboratories: on Histamine, JFRL News Vol.4 No.2 Oct. 2011