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How Common Was Food Poisoning in the Past?

Foodborne illness is a major concern in the modern world, and the cause is not always clear. Some bacteria are transmitted through human error, but some are simply the result of food contamination during production, processing, transportation, storage, or preparation. A study published in 2013 found that plant products caused 51 percent of food poisoning cases and animal products caused 48 percent. Researchers looked at data from the 10 years between 1998 and 2008, and found that food poisoning caused at least 56,000 cases in the U.S. and 1,350 cases of food poisoning worldwide.

The most serious complication of food poisoning is dehydration, a severe loss of water and other essential minerals and salts. Healthy adults are normally able to recover by drinking enough water to replace the fluids they lose through vomiting. However, older adults, people with weakened immune systems, and people with chronic illnesses may become severely dehydrated. If this occurs, they may need to be hospitalized. Severe cases of food poisoning can even be fatal.

The causes of food poisoning have been discovered and treated since the 1800s. Salmonella was the dominant bacterial agent in Britain until the mid-1970s, but Campylobacter has developed unpleasant habits that have rendered it the leading cause of food poisoning. The problem is a combination of human carelessness and microbial preferences. The earliest known instance of salmonella food poisoning occurred in England in 1885, when emergency-slaught cows were blamed for an outbreak.

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