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Spores and Toxins in Food

29 September 2023

Spores and toxins in food can be a cause of a serious food poisoning. Spores are a bacteria’s survival package. Some bacteria when faced with adverse conditions such as rising temperatures will form a survival spore. A spore has a protective shell which can withstand higher temperatures than those reached in cooking.


Spores in Food

Water boils at 100°C. This means that most of cooking will be only a little hotter. However, spores can survive temperatures of up to 120°C. When the heat returns to room temperature, the spore opens.  Once this happens, the bacteria starts growing to form another colony. This is why hot holding at temperatures above 63°C prevents spores become active, whereas rapid cooling does not give a chance to spores to open.

Two common spore-forming bacteria are Clostridium perfringens and Bacillus cereus. Some foods such as red kidney beans simply need to be cooked to break down the toxins and render them harmless.


Toxins in Food

Some toxins are produced by careless defrosting food (e.g. scombrotoxin). Toxins are poisons that are produced by bacteria and plants. Toxins can be deadly, such as that produced by Clostridium botulinum. The verocytotoxin produced by E. coli and its relatives causes damages to kidneys and the intestine. This may result in death, especially in the elderly and the very young. Seafood can also contain dangerous toxins. One of these toxins can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). Paralytic shellfish poisoning as the name suggests, causes paralysis. Shellfish such as mussels feed on smaller animals that produce this toxin. In large groups these animals can be seen as a red bloom known as ‘red tide’. There are monitoring systems such as satellite images, that warn where and when shellfish must not be harvested.


Spores and Toxins in Plants

Plants can contain toxins. Some toxins are produced by moulds. These toxins include aflatoxin, which can seriously harm the liver. Such toxins are found in cereals and dried fruits that have been poorly stored. All these examples demonstrate the importance of always obtaining quality food from reputable suppliers.


Preventing Food Poisoning

  • There are 4 simple steps to prevent food poisoning. As SafeFood writes in their article Food poisoning: causes, symptoms and treatment, steps you can take to prevent food poisoning are:
    Clean – always wash your hands before and after handling and eating food, after visiting the toilet or playing with pets or animals.
    Cook – make sure that food is thoroughly cooked in order to destroy any harmful bacteria that might be present.
    Chill – keep food cool in order to prevent bad bacteria from growing; make sure that your fridge is at the correct temperature to keep cold foods chilled – aim to keep your fridge at 5°C or below.
    Prevent cross-contamination – separate raw and cooked foods during storage and cooking and never let raw food, for example raw meat, come into contact with food that is ready-to-eat.


Online Food Safety Training

Please remember – it is a legal requirement that staff who are involved in a food environment are trained and/or supervised commensurate with their work activity!

Myelearnsafety offers fully online Food Safety (HACCP) courses.

To find out more, please check our Courses page.

Alternatively, should you need any additional information, please do not hesitate to let us know via email