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Clin Microbiol Rev. 1988 Oct;1(4):377-98.

Contemporary issues: diseases with a food vector.

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Division of Microbiology, Food and Drug Administration, Washington, D.C. 20204.


Foodborne disease has become a contemporary issue. Several large, well-publicized outbreaks of foodborne disease have heightened public awareness that harmful microorganisms may be present in food and that chronic as well as acute disease may be caused by foodborne microbes. The field of food microbiology has likewise experienced a resurgence of interest. New tools, such as recombinant deoxyribonucleic acid technology and monoclonal antibody production, used to elucidate microbial virulence factors have facilitated identification of disease-causing microbes once thought to be harmless and demonstrated the complexity of individual virulence mechanisms previously considered to be well understood. Foodborne pathogens are also causing disease via some surprising food vectors, such as chopped, bottled garlic and sauteed onions. In addition to acute gastrointestinal disturbances, certain microorganisms may, through complex interactions with the human immune response, cause chronic diseases that affect several major organ systems. These microbes are serving as models in studies of molecular mimicry and genetic interrelatedness of procaryotes and eucaryotes. Other recently recognized attributes of foodborne microorganisms, such as the heat shock phenomenon and the possible nonculturability of some bacteria, may affect their ability to cause disease in humans. Because foodborne disease is a major cause of morbidity and mortality, the study of these diseases and their causative microorganisms presents a unique challenge to many professionals in the subdisciplines of microbiology, epidemiology, and clinical medicine.

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