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Crit Rev Microbiol. 2002;28(3):249-79.

Comparative microbial character of consumed food and drinking water.

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  • 1Yale-New Haven Hospital, Department of Laboratory Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, CT, USA.


Humans ingest large numbers of microbes daily. Food provides distinctly different physical and physiological conditions from drinking water. With high concentrations of carbohydrate, protein, and ionic strength, food is much closer to the human physiological state than drinking water, which is essentially devoid of nutrients and ionic strength. Accordingly, microbes that can multiply in humans and cause disease can grow in food, but do not multiply in drinking water. Virtually all food sources contain many thousand times more bacteria than drinking water. Therefore, based on both observed microbial content and the presence of large numbers of pathogens or their indicators in food, in this country food is more of a health risk to humans than drinking water. Compounding this disparity is the fact that much food is imported with limited control over the means of production. Naturally occurring bacteria (HPC or autochthonous flora) do not have virulence factors, making their numbers irrelevant to health risk except in the case of the most severely immunocompromised--a very defined population group. Consequently, public health regulations should not be directed to eliminating naturally occurring HPC, but should be focused toward controlling pathogens through measures such as sanitary crop systems in the steps from production (e.g., quality of irrigation and fertilization, animal feed lot sanitation) through storage to consumer preparation. Food possesses a far greater risk than drinking water, and government agencies should take this fact into account when writing regulations.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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