Food Poisoning

It has been scientifically and clearly established that a vegetarian diet reduces one’s risk of chronic and degenerative diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, gallbladder disease, and hypertension. Despite knowing this, people consume non-veg items – and risk food poisoning as well.

Contamination from Farm to Fork

The Healthline website states the following 5 non-veg foods are most likely to cause food poisoning:

• Poultry

• Fish and Shellfish

• Meats like ham, bacon, salami and hot dogs

• Unpasteurized Dairy

• Eggs

Food poisoning is a big health hazard for those who consume non-veg foods.
Few examples:

• Fish poisoning kills people, whether it is due fish allergies, the dreaded Salmonella, or the ulcerative disease which breaks out so often in India.

• Numerous cases of food poisoning in children due to egg consumption in mid-day meals supplied by schools have been registered.

• Consumption of meat (supposedly decomposed) has proved to be fatal in Orissa, killing six children and an adult in September 2009.

• Raw milk, dairy and meat products cause bovine transmitted tuberculosis in humans. (10% of TB in India is bovine TB.)

• Few incidents of food-poisoning due to milk consumption come out into the open like the milk laced with pesticides and insecticides which caused the death of five tribal students of the State Welfare Department-run boarding school of Ranchi in November 2008 or when 61 children got ill after drinking insect-infested Government milk at Batakwada village near Vadodara.

According to a study conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research, 570 times the permitted limit of pesticides, were found in the average milk available.

Besides traces of harmful hormones, antibiotics and other medications being present in milk (those that were continuously administered to the cow/buffalo) we must not forget that milk can be cleverly adulterated (from 5% to 25% levels mainly found in thermal sealed pouches) with not only water as is commonly imagined, but with items such as caustic soda, soda bicarbonate, sweetening agents, hydrogen
peroxide, formalin, starch, urea, ammonium sulphate, pulverized soap, detergent, vegetable fat, benzoic and salicylic acid, borax and boric acid, melamine, etc.

In 2018 there was a big scare in Kerala and Goa that some other states were using the preservative formalin or formaldehyde (used in museums and morgues) in place of ice for preserving fish during transport. It is a carcinogenic poison and not permitted under the FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) rules.

Not only humans, but animals too get affected and die due to food poisoning. For example, 7 tigers of Bannerghatta died in October 2010 – they say 2 were due to old age, but one wonders when 5 died due to Salmonella poisoning arising from stale meat. May be the 2 that were old also got infected.

It wouldn’t be absolutely out of place to state here that when pest control is undertaken in houses, not only do cockroaches and others die, but it is very harmful for the human occupants. Food that gets sprayed (often inadvertently) turns poisonous and fatal. People who remain in or enter the house soon after, get severe breathing problems and some even die within 12 hours.

This is direct spraying of pesticides, but numerous studies over 40 years have stated that pesticides in foods cause weight gain since they interfere with regulating hormones, neurotransmitters, alter the nervous system, and so on. In fact, risk of diseases start in early neonatal periods and exposure to chemicals can very well be the cause of development of obesity and other diseases (related to pesticides) later in life.

Resistant to Antibiotics

Farmed fish (aquaculture) and poultry are given antibiotic shots to increase their growth and this has resulted in antibiotic resistance mainly among non-vegetarians in India. Overwhelming evidence has proved that indiscriminate and non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in feed of farmed animals and fish are positively to blame.

A 2016 study of 22 fish farms in West Bengal were visited by two investigators from the Delhi-based Centre for Science & Environment to confirm the rampant use of antibiotics which some how go unnoticed. They found antibiotics meant for humans being administered to the fish, e.g. amoxicillin and streptomycin. Cifran and Norflox were also given despite being banned for use in shrimp culture.

According to experts there is no doubt that antibiotic shots given to poultry and seafood to increase growth, has fuelled antibiotic resistance among non-vegetarians in India.

However, in response to the EU pressing to specify withdrawal time on meat and fish exports, and realising that overuse cum misuse of antibiotics had adversely affected exports, India prepared a National Policy for Containment of Antimicrobial Resistance which put a cap on how much and for how long antibiotics can be pumped into poultry, seafood and other products. Under the new rule, for eggs and milk, layers (hens) and milch cattle (cows/she-buffaloes) will have to be off antibiotics for 7 days before they enter the food chain; for poultry and livestock (slaughtered for meat) 28 days; whereas for fish it has been specified at 500 degree days.

The policy also prohibits the use of 20 antibiotics or pharmacologically active substances and has named common antibiotics like tetracycline, oxytetracycline, trimethoprim and oxolinic acid while stating that their prescribed tolerance should not be exceeded.

But, it doesn’t look like all this is abided by…

Following a World Health organization report warning, in 2014 the Drug Controller General of India and the Ministry of Agriculture directed all state governments to stop the use of antibiotics and hormones in cattle, poultry and other animal feed. They also called for strict implementation of the 2012 law which mandated a gap between the time an animal is given a drug and extraction of a food product from the animal as mentioned above. If it were to be implemented production cost would go up… so it is very likely that chicken eggs and fish will continue to have serious consequences on humans because of residue of antibiotics and hormones given to them as a food additive to prevent disease and promote growth.

This was vindicated by a lab study released in August 2014 by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) which found antibiotic residues in 40% of the muscles, kidneys and livers of chicken samples they tested. The presence of six antibiotics: oxytetracycline, chlortetracycline, and doxycycline (class tetracyclines), enrofloxacin and ciprofloxacin (class fluoroquinolones) and neomycin (an aminoglycoside) were checked for – 17.1% had more than one antibiotic residue. Residues of five of the six antibiotics up to 131.75 micrograms per kilogram, were found in samples tested.

Experts and doctors in Delhi and Bangalore reiterated that regular consumers of chicken meat (and eggs) were developing antibiotic resistance. The CSE said the antibiotics used cause an inflammation of the gut mucosa, resulting in faster growth. Roxarsone is anti-microbial and a growth hormone believed to be a source of arsenic contamination in poultry. And, as expected, Ventakeshwara Hatcheries immediately claimed that antibiotic residue in check was way below international standards which of course means nothing! Obviously then, not only the flesh of chickens, but egg consumption becomes as harmful.

Interestingly it is not only non-vegetarians who are affected. As much as 90% of antibiotics given to livestock are excreted into the environment. Resistance spreads directly by contact and indirectly through the food chain, water, air, manure and sludge-fertilised soils.

So now we know why antibiotics are less effective, do not work fast enough or not at all on humans.

It is no different in other countries. One of the most common antibiotic-resistant pathogens is MRSA, which kills more Americans annually than AIDS. MRSA has many variants, but one of the more benign forms is now widespread in hog barns and among people who deal with hogs.

It would not be out of place to state here that 80% of antibiotics in the US go to livestock, not humans; and 90% of the livestock antibiotics are administered in their food or water, typically to healthy animals to make them grow faster and/or to keep them from getting sick when they are confined in squalid and crowded conditions.

The Agents of Food Poisoning

The Department of State Health Services, Texas, USA, has listed on its website the common causes of food borne illnesses. Each and every cause of food borne illnesses listed below turns out to be non-vegetarian food. Where veg items are also one of the possible causes, it is extremely likely that the products were contaminated by non-veg foods. Cross contamination occurs due to improper storage and handling of food and unhygienic conditions – uncleanness before, during and after preparation.

Anisakis simplex: a fish parasite.

Bacillus cereus: meatloaf, boiled rice, cereal products, puddings, sauces and vegetables.

Brucella virus: the source of which is milk leads to arthritis, fever and infertility in humans.

Campylobacter jejuni: raw and undercooked poultry and seafood, unpasteurized milk, beef liver and untreated water.

Clostridium perfringens: meat products mainly poultry, if left at room temperature for more than 2 hours (stews, gravies, meat pies, roasts, meat products, and poultry), flies, cockroaches, animal and human excreta.

Escherichia coli 0157:H7:
raw and undercooked hamburger meat, un-pasteurized milk or apple juice, and “rare” roast beef. (Also, read E. coli below.)

Listeria monocytogenes: raw and unprocessed meat (hot dogs, luncheon meats), raw seafood, cole slaw, soft cheese, unpasteurized milk and cheese made from unpasteurized milk.

Salmonella: eggs (the yolks), raw or undercooked meats, poultry, unpasteurized milk, fruits, vegetables, coconuts, yeast, smoked fish, dry milk, and chocolate candy. Eggs have the highest count of Coliform bacteria which can result in Salmonella infection – they easily contaminate other food during storage. Every year around 20 million people worldwide get Salmonella infection and 200,000 die.

Shigella: mixed salads (potato, egg, macaroni, tuna and shrimp), meat, dairy products, vegetables, apple
cider, contaminated water and ice.

Staphylococcus aureus: raw milk from cows and goats, ham, poultry, salads, cream-filled pastries, meat products, potato salad, dressing, sauces and gravies, cheese, fish salad and bread pudding.

Vibrio cholerae01: raw mussels, shrimp, fish, cucumbers, mixed and moist foods, and foods washed in contaminated water.

Vibrio cholerae Non-01: pickled herring and shellfish.

Vibrio parahaemolyticus: warm-water shellfish (such as those from the Gulf of Mexico), raw fish, raw marine foods, saltwater fish, mollusks, crustaceans, fish products, cucumbers and salty foods from cross-contamination.

Avian/Bird Flu

The H5N1 strain of virus, commonly known as bird flu instils deep fear in chicken (and fowl) eaters because they know that it can be transmitted to them and that it could turn fatal. Every time an outbreak occurs, chickens are destroyed – to date millions have been killed in different countries including India, especially in the North East.


Commercial fishing in the sea involves targeting particular fish or marine creatures. The bycatch is what gets unintentionally caught and is unwanted because it is of little commercial value or because it is illegal to catch the particular specie.

The way out for fishers is to discard… but a considerable portion some how does reach the food supply chain and it brings in commercial gain for others.

What fishers throw away or dump in the sea are injured creatures, vulnerable to infection, making their chances of survival low. Dumping in deep waters is known to wash up dead and almost dead lives on beaches that are then picked up by foragers, cleaned and sold for a song to “fish lovers”. The consumption of such sea food is dangerous and results in food poisoning.

Scombroid/scombrotoxin fish poisoning is any way frequently encountered if dead fish remain in set nets during warm sea temperatures.

Parasitic Worms

At the 20th National Congress of the Indian Society of Parasitology (2008) it was revealed that many more infections caused by parasitic worms (which may turn fatal) are found among those living in North East India as lots of meat is eaten in the region. In Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur and Meghalaya where people consume large quantities of crabs, pork, beef and poultry, parasitic worms have been frequently detected and in particular the consumption of pork has led to the formation of tapeworms in human brains and epilepsy. In fact, the president of the Parasitology Society clearly pointed out that eating raw and undercooked meat, fish, crabs, shrimps, molluscs and other animal flesh facilitates a number of parasitic worms, and that cooking was not enough to wipe out parasitic worms like p.westermani.

Mad Cow Disease

Mad Cow or Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is caused by consuming beef contaminated with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) because cattle were fed meat. It is a degenerative neurological disorder of the brain and always fatal. (Interestingly, the symptoms of Mad Cow Disease and an acute B12 deficiency are very similar.)

Swine Flu

Swine flu is a contagious form of human influenza caused by a virus formerly isolated from infected pigs. Normally the swine or pig flu virus as the name suggests, is confined to that species and does not infect humans.

E. coli

In 2011, 31 people in Europe died due to E. coli which apparently arose from bean sprouts grown on an organic farm in Germany. E. coli originates in animals but can spill into water used to irrigate vegetables, thus contaminating them.

Protein, Red Meat and Cured Meat

Protein and Meat are not synonyms. Protein is a nutrient. It is therefore incorrect to say “protein” when meaning “meat”. Yet, many non-vegetarians call meat protein, and by doing so, they think people will excuse or overlook their eating flesh of killed animals, birds and fish. It is obvious that saying they eat protein doesn’t make them feel as uncomfortable as saying they eat cow, chicken, goat, pig, fish or any other living creature. Carcasses, embryos and glandular secretions (flesh, eggs and milk) are not the only sources of protein.

The management of CISRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) in Australia has been exposed for encouraging the consumption of red meat despite contrary advice from their own scientists. No wonder Australia has the highest number of bowel cancer cases in the world and there is no doubt that red meat is the cause. In fact, in every country, the meat industry is indirectly responsible for misleading and confusing nutrition advice on the necessity of “protein”.

Cured meat is carcass preservation that mainly utilises salt and nitrite in large quantities. Apart from the risk of parasitic infection like tape worms, the high sodium content is very harmful, and the nitrites used are known to cause food poisoning in the form of botulism which is a fatal paralytic illness. Smoked meat is much the same – in countries like Japan where it is eaten regularly, more people suffer from oesophagus and stomach cancer.

A 2016 report that analysed 89 studies comprising 17.5 million adults covering nearly 77,000 cases of stomach cancer from around the world, found that consuming processed meat and drinking three or more alcoholic drinks per day increased the risk of stomach cancer which is the fifth most common cancer worldwide. And if the flesh consumed had been preserved by smoking, curing or by addition of preservatives (e.g. ham, bacon, pastrami, salami, hot dogs and sausages) it increased the risk of stomach cancer.

FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India)

The Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act, 1954 was repealed in 2006 by the Food Safety & Standards Act, 2006.

The Food Safety & Standards (Amendment) Bill, 2020, with 70 amendments was framed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (Government of India) in order to revamp the functioning and jurisdiction of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), a statutory body established in 2011 under the Food Safety & Standards Act, 2006.

FSSAI’s mandate is as follows:
1. Framing of regulations to lay down food safety standards.
2. Laying down guidelines for accreditation of laboratories for food testing.
3. Providing scientific advice and technical support to the Central Government.
4. Contributing to the development of international technical standards in food.
5. Collecting and collating data regarding food consumption, contamination, emerging risks, etc.
6. Disseminating information and promoting awareness about food safety and nutrition in India.

Page last updated on 31/08/21