Food safety

Food bacteria - What temperature kills bacteria in food?

Food bacteria play significant roles in terms of food processing and safety. Pathogenic bacteria cause foodborne ...

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  • Food bacteria play significant roles in terms of food processing and safety.
  • Pathogenic bacteria cause foodborne illnesses that can threaten consumers' lives, whereas beneficial bacteria are used to improve the shelf-life and characteristics of foods.
  • The temperature used to kill bacteria depends on the target pathogen and the processed food but a temperature of 165°F (74°C) is sufficient to make foods safe.

The whopping 600 million reported foodborne illnesses each year worldwide are induced mainly by pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and their associated toxins. Among these harmful organisms, food bacteria significantly contribute to the number of foodborne illness cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that food bacteria cause a significant portion of the 250 identified foodborne illnesses. As members of the food industry, your team is responsible for understanding how food bacteria behave, their effects, and what temperature kills bacteria in food.

Your best defense against the effects of food bacteria is by implementing a comprehensive food safety management system (FSMS). The US government has even emphasized focusing on preventing contamination and the consequences of these pathogens by addressing their sources. The first step to controlling food bacteria is understanding them, their significance, and how they can affect the food we produce. Included in this type of food safety training is understanding how food bacteria can sometimes be used beneficially and improve food characteristics.

Learn about the most important topics on food bacteria and how to control them in this detailed piece properly.



What is a simple definition of bacteria?

Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms that can reproduce asexually. This microorganism is a significant contributor to many innovations in different industries and current health topics. In a more conventional term, the culinary definition of bacteria pertains to microscopic organisms that can be harmful or beneficial depending on their type and use. Despite being very simple organisms, their biological functions can produce critical products. Depending on the use and incorporation of bacteria in an industry, they can either be beneficial or detrimental to a process.

Bacteria are very common organisms. They can be found in food, equipment, soil, water, air, and even human skin and intestinal tract. There are many different types of bacteria present around us. Each type of bacteria may produce products and affect their surroundings differently. These effects may depend on the conditions that they are in such as in foods.

The contribution of bacteria cannot be understated. In the environment, they help decompose organic matter. This particular function help in cycling organic compounds such as carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur and allow surrounding organisms to use them. In humans, bacteria that live inside the gut help break down complex nutrients from foods into simpler compounds that our body can utilize as nutrients.


What are bacteria in food?

A simple food bacteria definition would be bacterial microorganisms that play significant roles in terms of processing and safety in the food industry. This bacteria in food definition encompasses both negative and positive contributions of the microorganisms. Bacteria that can be used to alter or improve the characteristics of food or other products are known to be beneficial. On the other hand, those that can cause foodborne diseases and other detrimental effects are often called pathogenic bacteria. We may consider this group as the bad bacteria.

Beneficial bacteria are commonly used to process foods by altering their characteristics. This is a common occurrence in preservation methods. An example of this is the fermentation of fruit juices into wine. The beneficial bacteria in this process use the carbohydrates found in the fruit juice and use them to produce organic acids and ethanol that give the distinct characteristics of wine. Depending on the type of fruit and the food bacteria used, the results may vary.

In terms of food safety, some types of bacteria can also be dangerous to consumers. Harmful bacteria or those that can cause foodborne illnesses are treated as contaminants in the food industry. They can enter the processing cycle at any point and produce unwanted results. They are called contaminations because they may either produce reactions that are not part of the process or even create products that can be harmful.

The growth of pathogenic bacteria in foods makes the products unfit for consumption. Foodborne illnesses arise from consuming contaminated foods. The reaction may either be caused by the bacteria itself or the by-products that they produce such as toxins and other harmful organic materials. Some foods are more prone to becoming contaminated with some particular bacteria because of their characteristics.


Salmonella food bacteria



What types of bacteria cause problems in food services?

Generally, pathogenic bacteria are problematic microorganisms in food services. They are the reasons behind some of the big foodborne illness outbreaks recorded in the past and are continuously contaminating the food industry until now. These food bacteria are part of the natural ecosystem. They mostly live in the soil and water which are common growing media and requirements for growing fresh produce such as vegetables and foods of animal origin.


What are the 3 main types of bacteria found in food?

 There are many different types of bacteria in food. In this section, we will look more into the main species of bacteria that causes significantly dangerous effects on humans. Different health departments have identified the most significant pathogens and the majority of them are food bacteria. Three of the big 6 foodborne illness-causing pathogens are the following:

  • Salmonella (typhoidal and nontyphoidal)
  • Escherichia coli (causes traveler's diarrhea)
  • Shigella


These bacteria are mostly found in foods prepared in unsanitary conditions and lacking food hygiene standards. There are other significant food bacteria present in the food industry but these three are considered to cause the most number of foodborne illness cases in the world. They were also considered the pathogens that can be highly infectious and most likely to cause harm to humans and a foodborne outbreak even with a small amount.

Other species of bacteria that are significant in terms of food safety include the following:

  • Campylobacter
  • Listeria monocytogenes
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Staphyloccocus aureus


Foodborne illnesses caused by these food bacteria may show symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, fever, and sometimes life-threatening conditions. In more serious cases, normal symptoms are accompanied by worrying immune responses such as bloody diarrhea or even difficulty in breathing which need immediate medical attention.


What is bacterial food infection?

Bacterial food infection is a type of food poisoning that is caused by the bacteria itself and not the by-products that it can produce. During a bacterial food infection, an individual is afflicted with symptoms because of the very high bacterial population on the food or the bacteria has continuously grown in their gut.

Individuals with weak immune systems such as children under the age of 5, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with autoimmune diseases are more likely to contract this condition. Despite this, even a healthy adult can get food infection especially if the bacterial load is high. Bacterial food infection is sometimes called bacterial gastroenteritis and shows typical symptoms of bacterial food poisoning. The onset of bacterial food infection may range from as early as a few hours to two days after consuming contaminated foods. 

The severity of the bacterial food infection depends on the type of concerned bacteria, the environmental factors surrounding the food, the initial bacterial load, and the immune system of the affected individual. 

Some contaminated foods may show visible signs of spoilage that can signal the risk of foodborne illnesses whereas some may not. Spoiled foods that contain a dangerous amount of food bacteria may have the following characteristics:

  • Pungent and undesirable smell
  • Sour or acidic taste
  • Curdling in liquid
  • Formation of bubbles or slime on the surface of foods
  • Discolored appearance of food
  • Disintegration of the food's structure


In some cases, contaminated foods may not show any or only a few of these signs but may still cause foodborne illnesses. This is why conditions such as the temperature danger zone or the range of temperatures where most pathogens optimally grow must always be considered as well as strict food safety practices.

Under a comprehensive food safety management system, these factors and concerning operations can be continuously monitored to prevent any bacterial food infection. Use our digital Food Safety Management System solution powered by artificial intelligence to make food safety compliance in the most efficient way possible. Use our digital monitoring forms equipped with an auto-fill feature to save your employees' time and ensure the accuracy of the information in every food safety operation you have.




What are the main sources of bacteria in the food business?

Since bacteria are very minute and are practically invisible to the naked eye, they can easily enter the food production system unnoticed. Without proper precautions and control systems, they can contaminate perishable foods in an instant. You have to remember that even cooked foods can become contaminated. In any food establishment, there are a number of major pathways that food poisoning bacteria can use to enter the production process.

Some of these pathways may include:

  • Cross-contamination. This course may perhaps be the fastest way to spread bacteria on food. Cross-contamination of food refers to the transfer of a contaminant from one point to another. It can occur through three different main origins which include the transfer of bacteria from food, worker, and equipment to the food being prepared. Inadequate food handling practices and monitoring procedures promote the occurrence of cross-contamination in foodservice establishments. 

  • Poor quality food supply. Every food ingredient innately has bacteria and other microorganisms. The rate at which food bacteria can spoil foods depends on the initial load. With raw foods that have been produced with poor agricultural practices, you can expect that the produced food ingredients may have a higher bacterial load. This can either increase the occurrence of cross-contamination or spoil the product itself and cause any foodborne disease in humans. This applies to raw produce such as raw meats, egg products, raw poultry products, raw seafood, vegetables, and fruits.

  • Unclean air and water supply. Clean drinking water supply and the air around the working area are critical components of a safe working environment for any food business. Water is used in almost all operations inside and outside a restaurant kitchen. Similarly, contaminated water is one of the main carriers of some of the most significant food bacteria such as E. coliBacteria from water can easily be transferred to utensils, food contact surfaces, and other objects in a kitchen. As such a clean water supply is imperative for food businesses.

  • Poor pest management. Another carrier of some of the most dangerous food bacteria is pests. These creatures carry foodborne illness-causing bacteria on their fur, legs, and other body parts which can come in contact with foods. When undetected and once they enter the food processing, the food bacteria on these parts can easily transfer and grow in the more nutrient-rich environment of foods. Food that has come in contact with animals or a part of these pests is considered unsafe food for consumption. Use our pest management plan template to help you in ensuring that no pests will enter your food premises. 

These mentioned pathways are just some of the most significant routes by which bacteria can enter foods. All of the mentioned routes can easily be addressed with proper food safety management and the application of strict food handling practices. Food bacteria will always be part of every food business but they can be controlled to prevent their negative effects on consumers.  


How could bacteria spread while food is being prepared?

As previously explained, bacteria can be introduced to foods through several routes. During preparation, cross-contamination is the most likely cause of bacterial contamination in foods. This process can occur when food handlers fail to practice good food hygiene such as proper handwashing, wearing the proper uniform, other personal hygiene practices, and proper cleaning of their working environment. 

Additionally, bacteria can spread fast when tools and the equipment used in the food preparation stage are unclean. Using the same chopping board and knives to cut raw types of meat, vegetables, fruits, and ready-to-eat foods can spread bacteria and increase the chance of food poisoning. All kitchen utensils must be properly cleaned and disinfected before using different raw materials. Alternatively, food handlers can dedicate kitchen utensils for separate use on raw and ready-to-eat foods. 


How do bacteria get on food?

Bacteria can contaminate food because of the lack of food safety measures. Food business owners are responsible for training their food handlers on how to prepare foods in the safest way possible. When knowledge of the fundamental principles of food bacteria and food safety practices is lacking for a food handler, you can expect a higher chance of contamination from food bacteria.

The lack of proper training on food safety can introduce an opening for food bacterial contamination. This type of training is required to learn how to properly address bacteria in food products, basic food safety laws, and how to monitor food safety operations for easier evaluations.


bacteria is most likely on raw food



Why do bacteria affect the food that we eat?

Food bacteria, and other microorganisms, are all living things. They need a source of nutrients to sustain their biological functions and be able to reproduce. Since bacteria are simple organisms, they cannot use complex compounds as nutrition and therefore break them down. Some of the major sources of nutrients for bacteria include carbon, water, nitrogen, phosphorous, and iron. 

Consequently, the mentioned nutrients are all present in foods and are in fact very abundant. As such, different food products can serve as great growing media for bacteria. Once bacteria contaminate the food, they can start breaking down its components and produce by-products which manifest as either food spoilage or desirable characteristics of food.

As an example of the by-products of bacteria in food, some bacteria can utilize carbohydrates by breaking them down into simpler forms. Once used, the bacteria produce by-products such as gas, organic acids, and alcoholic compounds which is a common phenomenon in fermentation as well as in spoilage of foods. This process explains why your vegetable juice may start to form bubbles around when left at ambient temperature.


How can you prevent bacteria from contaminating foods?

Although innately present in the environment, food bacteria can be prevented from causing significant problems in the food industry. The spread of bacteria can be apprehended before they grow to unacceptable levels through food safety compliance. Adequate food safety practices can help reduce the occurrences of foodborne illnesses.

Proper food safety practices can be as simple as practicing strict food hygiene that includes handwashing, to more complex operations such as accurate cooking process to the recommended internal proper temperatures. Several food safety agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration have set standards and guidelines on how to properly conduct a food business in compliance with food safety regulations.

Some of the most effective preventive methods against food bacteria include the following:

  • Cooking food
  • Cleaning and disinfection methods
  • Chilling and proper storage
  • Prevention of cross-contamination


These basic food safety operations encompass a wider range of other operations that can help prevent the growth of bacteria in food. Other precautionary measures to ensure the prevention of bacterial growth in food may include securing a reputable source of raw materials.

In ensuring the safety of your food products from bacteria, consistent and accurate monitoring is essential. This aspect of food safety is most evident in operations such as cooking. Serving undercooked meat products as a result of inadequate cooking and an uncalibrated food thermometer can put the lives of your consumers at risk. Your food safety management system must be able to adapt to the ever-changing food industry and be flexible enough to accommodate all of your food safety operations. At FoodDocs, this is just one of the main features of our digital FSMS. 

With customizable and smart, digital monitoring forms, you can easily adapt to new operations while ensuring food safety in your food business. Additionally, our digital solution features a smart notification system that alerts food handlers of any food safety operation that needs to be done on time. Ensure that your food employees will be able to perform the necessary operations to control the growth of bacteria in food. 


FoodDocs food safety system-1


What temperature kills bacteria in food?

Perhaps the most reliable method in controlling the growth of bacteria is the use of heat processing. Different types of bacteria have very different characteristics, and therefore can be tolerant to some environmental conditions. Despite this, a certain level of applied heat and contact time can kill the majority of foodborne illness-causing bacteria in food. 

In general, an average hot temperature of 165°F (74°C) in cooking can eliminate most of the harmful bacteria in food. Although, this temperature control level is not always applicable to some types of food. The degree of heating used in different types of food is dependent on the most commonly known bacteria that can survive in a particular food. This information is then used as the basis for establishing the optimum temperature to be used in heating.

A good example of this is the pasteurization of raw milk or untreated milk products. Unpasteurized milk is known to be commonly contaminated by pathogenic bacteria such as Coxiella burnetti which was the target bacteria used in establishing the first pasteurization temperature. Initially, the established temperature was just 135°F (57°C) which was enough to kill the mentioned bacteria. After much consideration, other pathogenic bacteria in raw, unpasteurized milk were discovered and the pasteurization temperature was increased to 145°F (63°C) for 30 minutes or 161°F (72°C ) for 15 seconds.


What wave is used to kill bacteria in food?

One of the more unconventional ways of disinfecting foods against bacteria is the use of gamma rays for irradiation. This process uses gamma rays from Cobalt 60 in eliminating food bacteria and other pathogens in food. This process has been successfully used for preservation and improving the food safety status of products.

The use of the irradiation process is heavily regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The food safety agency ensures that the process is safe and does not make the irradiated products radioactive. Other food safety agencies have also endorsed the use of this process and have proven its effectiveness.


bacteria on food is killed by heat



Is bacteria in food always harmful?

No, bacteria are not necessarily always harmful. As mentioned in the earlier sections of this article, some bacteria can be beneficial. Some types of bacteria are used for food processing, whereas some are used to improve the digestive health of consumers. Beneficial bacteria are often used in improving the characteristics and shelf life of raw materials. Their biological processes are behind the well-known food preservation methods such as fermentation. Additionally, their by-products produce new experiences for customers such as in the production of alcohol and carbon dioxide for wines as well as more complex flavors in cheeses. 


What are the uses of bacteria?

Generally, bacteria can be used in a number of ways. Some groups of bacteria are used to decompose organic matter and improve the agricultural conditions on farms and the improvement of yield. In other industries, bacteria are used to clean up toxic wastes such as oil spills or create new products including drugs such as antibiotics. Bacteria have also been used in improving the characteristics of other living organisms such as in reinforcing the sturdiness of crop products against environmental effects through genetic modification.


How are bacteria used in food?

Food bacteria have an array of different beneficial effects in terms of quality, experience, and even safety in the entire food chain. Depending on the type and amount of bacteria, the outcome may significantly vary. In determining these factors food handlers are expected to know their objective outcomes.

Here are some of the most common uses of bacteria in food and a more in-depth explanation for each use:

  • Increasing food shelf-life. The method of preservation with the help of food bacteria has been used for centuries. Food bacteria in preservations create an inhabitable environment for pathogenic microorganisms such as an acidic condition or limiting the available water and thereby extending the food's shelf life. Additionally, some bacteria are capable of stopping the process involved in the rancidity of food fats and oils. 
  • Development of new flavors and textures. One group of the most widely used bacteria for this type of operation is the lactic acid bacteria. This group of bacteria is commonly used for the production of a broad range of organic acids, mainly lactic acid, that give processed foods their distinct taste and texture. This is very much observable for foods like cheeses and fermented vegetable products such as kimchisauerkraut, and tempeh. Innovative uses for improving the flavors of food products are always at the priority of food developers.
  • Improvement of intestinal health. If you have ever heard of the term probiotic foods, then you may be familiar with the fact that what makes a product a probiotic-rich food is the culture of bacteria inside it. Beneficial microorganisms have been infused into foods with the objective of improving the group of intestinal bacteria in humans. This pivotal role of bacteria has been linked to benefits such as reducing or controlling inflammatory bowel disease and even improving the immune system of consumers.

The beneficial use of bacteria in the food industry offers a very wide opportunity for improvement. Several other untapped fields of innovation are still present in the food industry and can be initiated through the use of bacteria. Despite this great potential, regulation is still advised when using bacteria in food. Without proper monitoring and regulations, the number of beneficial food bacteria can grow to unmanageable levels and can cause unwanted results. 


beneficial use of bacteria


The digital solution for controlling food bacteria

Food bacterial advantages and disadvantages are very significant in the food industry. They can mean innovations or foodborne infections for your food businesses. The effects of food bacteria on your food business must always be assessed by your food safety team. In controlling pathogenic bacteria consistency in applying strict food handling practices is key to maintaining compliance with food safety regulations. 

At FoodDocs, we specialize in helping food business owners and food safety teams in complying with food safety regulations and their maintenance throughout your operations. We offer free tools such as the Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOP) tool that can help you define elaborate instructions for cleaning and sanitizing food facilities. In addition, our system also offers monitoring sheets for recording the internal temperature of foods to control the bacteria growth from your raw or uncooked foods.

Despite the effectiveness of these free tools, they are still paper-based and will need to be regularly updated to cope with your fast-paced operations. What could really help you is an intuitive and comprehensive FSMS in your food safety operations. At FoodDocs, we've taken the solution of offering your food safety tools to the next step. 

Our digital Food Safety Management System software was designed to make food safety compliance for every food business a walk in the park. In just an average of 15 minutes, you can get a digital FSMS that is built specifically based on your everyday operations. All it takes is for you to answer a few basic questions that aim to describe your food business to our system.


How can you control food bacteria using FoodDocs?

When you signup for our digital FSMS product, you can get smart monitoring forms such as digital temperature logs for operations that help in pathogen control. You can use these intuitive logs for recording storage temperatures and cooking operations. These monitoring forms are built with an auto-fill feature that automatically inputs information based on your previous data readings. You can save your employees' time and this feature would only require them to verify the information.

In addition to the auto-fill feature, what makes our temperature monitoring logs and other monitoring forms intuitive or smart is how they suggest corrective actions in case of standard breaches. Once a food handler inputs or verifies that an operation fell out of your established food safety standards, our system will automatically flash previously established corrective actions for immediate application. 

Mobile interface of FoodDocs cooking temperature log-1

Mobile interface of FoodDocs cooking temperature log

Our system is also equipped with a smart notification system. In controlling bacteria in food, time and temperature are very important. The frequency of doing your food safety operations can significantly affect the safety of your products. Inadequate cooking as a result of improperly controlled temperature and time can produce high-risk foods. At FoodDocs, we value this principle. Using our mobile application, our system can send your employees notifications that remind them of time-sensitive tasks for food safety.

This feature can also be used to remind food handlers regarding the expiration dates on foods. For every delivery, food handlers can register the information for particular food batches including their expiration dates. Once the use-by dates are nearing, our system will send automatic notifications. This process ensures that the products are all fresh and that the potentially existing food bacteria are still low in the count when the ingredients are used. 

What is even greater in this digital FSMS is how you can easily customize each food safety component to add or improve generated food safety tasks. You can switch your unique food safety operations into a digital platform without the hassle or the need to be a tech-savvy person. All it takes to do this feature are a few clicks using your computer.  

Experience how our digital FSMS product can make food safety compliance more efficient and easier for you. You can try our services for free by availing of our free, 14-day trial. During this trial, you can spend 15 minutes of your time and create a digital FSMS for your food business. From there, experience our features powered by artificial intelligence and continue maintaining food safety compliance.



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