Bacteria are single-celled organisms. They are very small yet larger than viruses. Each bacterial cell is about 1 micrometer long and a half of a micrometer in width. You can place several hundred bacteria on the head of a pin!

Bacteria come in different shapes: round, rod-like, and curved. Some even have a spiral shape. And some have a whip-like flagellum (or ‘flagella’ if more than 1) attached to their surface that propels them through liquid environments.

Question: Why are bacteria a problem with foodborne illness?

Answer: Bacteria are especially problematic because they multiply rapidly on food.

In general, bacteria that make us sick grow between 40°F and 140°F (4°C to 60°C). The warmer it is, the faster they grow. In fact most bacteria that can make us sick grow the fastest at human body temperature, that is 98.6°F (37°C). This is the reason that we need to be especially careful when we cook foods and then cool them too slowly.

On the other hand, spoilage bacteria do not cause foodborne illness but instead produce substances that make food taste or smell bad. You can read more this in the spoilage section of this web site.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES – visit the sites below for more detailed information:

The Bad Bug Book (US Food and Drug Administration) (detailed information)

Common Foodborne Pathogens (Iowa State University) (a more simplified overview)