A Miniature World

We know that some bacteria can make us sick. Some of them are also good guys – our bodies are populated by millions and millions of them in fact. They help our systems to function and protect us from diseases. We can’t live without beneficial bacteria – what’s called our microbiome.

But sometimes, we come into contact with the bad guys, the ones who cause illness or disease. How can you protect yourself and your loved ones from a bad experience with harmful bacteria? To do so it’s important to understand how bacteria live, grow and reproduce. Yeah, a little science lesson!

Bacteria are what we call single celled organisms. You and I are made of up billions of cells – remember those from biology? That’s why you can’t see them; they are microscopic. They are living things, so they have certain requirements to exist, just like any other living being. They need certain temperatures, they need food and water, and they also perform certain biological functions. They produce waste (some of them), and they reproduce. How do bacteria get it on? They do it by something called binary fission – they split in two. Not as much fun!

If the conditions are right though, one bacteria can divide every 20 minutes (approximately). So, if you start out with one cell of E. coli, in four hours, you can have about 2,000 cells of E. coli. This is your math lesson. Ugh, math!

Now, we all carry the E. coli bacteria in our gut – normally about 1,000,000 cells per gram of feces. Seriously! We need those particular bacteria to help us digest food and maintain a healthy digestive system (our microbiome, remember). But there are also a few strains of E. coli that are pathogenic (disease-causing). It may take anywhere from 100 to 10,000 of these cells to cause serious illness, if you were to ingest that type of E. coli.

So the trick is to keep that E. coli, or other pathogenic bacteria, from going postal in our food. How do we do that? One important way is by controlling times. We know that we have about four hours for safety. If bacteria has four hours to grow the bad bacteria, that can be enough time for them to reproduce to unsafe levels. After that, you MUST throw food away. If it’s been five or more hours, reheating it reallyreallyreally hot will not be enough to kill everything either. For more info see http://foodsleuthonline.com/2017/04/03/living-dangerously/#more-322

The second component to this bad bacteria control party is the temperature factor. We have to pay attention to something called The Danger Zone. You might want to break out your leather and dynamite, we have to get serious!     Bacteria grow best in temperatures between 41 and 135. Basically, between refrigeration, and cooking. So room temperature is a no-go.

The rule is: food can’t be left in the Danger Zone for more than four hours. Remember that, and life will be so much easier. And your stomach will thank you.

About foodsleuth

I’m a food safety specialist with over 20 years’ experience of restaurant inspection experience. I dabble in writing too for fun. I love to cook (for my family and friends), to eat, and to critique restaurants (unprofessionally)!

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