Tracking down germs!

How can consumers protect themselves against illness due to germs in the food they eat? What kind of germs can food contain? And are all germs harmful to human health? "Bacterially contaminated food doesn't always make you ill", says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel, President of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). "At the same time, however, food that shows no signs of spoilage can still contain harmful germs". "Tracking down germs!" is the motto of the BfR information stand at the International Green Week. The BfR presence at the Berlin fair also kicks off a series of events to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment.

Consumers will be able to find out about "good" and "bad" germs in food at the BfR stand:

Some germs are actually useful in many kinds of food. Lactic acid bacteria are needed to make yoghourt, cheese or salami, for example. Other germs are anything but desirable, as they cause food spoilage or can even make people ill. Spoilage germs like pseudomonads or micrococci form enzymes in food, resulting in the decomposition of organic substances. This creates metabolites that, among other things, change the odour and taste of the food in such a way that it is no longer fit for consumption. Spoilage is generally easy to recognise; examples for the effects of spoilage germs include sour milk or rancid butter.

Eating spoiled food products will not automatically make people ill. Problems only arise if the food is actually contaminated with pathogenic germs. Salmonella and Campylobacter in food are the main cause of bacterial diarrhoea illnesses. Under certain circumstances, antibiotic-resistant germs on food can also pose a health hazard. Consumers can protect themselves against infections of this kind by ensuring that food is stored and prepared hygienically.

Using a special fridge, BfR staff members will explain which foods should be stored where and how in the fridge. There will also be a "black box" in which visitors will actually be able to see the germs on surfaces like chopping boards.

Then there will be a BfR Quiz which will allow both children and adults to put their food hygiene knowledge to the test.

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) will be at Stand 101 in Hall 3.2 (theme farm) of the International Green Week staged by Messe Berlin from January 20 to 29, 2012.

About the BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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