For the protection of consumers, the following microbiological requirements must be met with regard to foodstuffs and consumer goods:
Hygiene plays a crucial role in the prevention of diseases and the maintenance of health. We encounter the term hygiene in many different areas of our lives: hospital hygiene, environmental hygiene, social hygiene or even personal hygiene. Food hygiene not only includes environmental hygiene, but also personal hygiene and epidemiological contexts. In a broader sense, it can be described as "all measures or actions related to the production, transformation, storage and distribution of food with the aim of guaranteeing the suitability of a product for human consumption". In a narrower sense, food hygiene deals with the protection of food against microbiological risks.
The microbiological quality of food is achieved by following the rules of food hygiene. First and foremost, health safety must be guaranteed. The shelf life and preservation of product-specific properties are other elements of the microbiological quality of food. Therefore, risk assessment and quality assurance of food are always part of the lectures and laboratory work in food microbiology.
Nowadays, intoxications and infections from food contaminated by microorganisms represent the most significant health risk in industrial societies. Microbial hazards in food include bacteria such as salmonella, viruses such as norovirus, parasites such as trematodes, and prions. Diarrhoeal diseases are the most common illnesses caused by eating contaminated food. Every year, 550 million people fall ill and 230 000 people die. In addition, diarrhoeal diseases can cause malnutrition and growth retardation, reflected in the amount of Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) resulting from the consumption of contaminated food.
The shelf life of a food product depends primarily on its bacteriological quality. Spoilage occurs mainly through the proliferation of germs that are not a health hazard per se, but alter the specific properties of a product. The corresponding microorganisms reduce the value of a food product and play a much greater role in the food industry than pathogenic microorganisms.