Environmental Hazards & Human Health


Food! We have discussed food from a variety of angles in the course. We all eat food for energy, nutritional benefits and, for some of us, because it can be delicious which confers a pyscho-social benefit. Unfortunately the food we eat can also present risks (the probability that an adverse outcome could occur). There is a long list of types of food contaminants that could present and that have presented risks to the consumers. For example, food-borne contaminants that could cause illness and even death include some parasites, pathogenic bacteria, virus and prions (a type of protein that can cause abnormal protein configurations in the brain). Some of these are zoonotic (transferred from animals). Toxic chemical contaminants can also be found in foods, such as polychlorinated dibenzo dioxins (PCDDs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), arsenic and metals.

In a simplistic way, the dose makes the poison. Regulatory agencies have used the more complex science behind this simple phrase to set limits for acceptable levels of food-borne contaminants, e.g., limits forEscherichia coli(E. coli)bacteria. Setting those limits can be complicated for some non-lethal contaminants where the benefits of consuming a food must be weighed against the risks. An example here is mercury that accumulates in fish as methylmercury which is a potent neurotoxicant. However, eating fish also confers health benefits as fish are an excellent source of essential omega-3 fatty acids that contribute to neurological development and some evidence points to cardiovascular health.

Note that all foods purchased in Canada, including imported food, must pass Canadian food safety regulations that are implemented through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) but their spot testing does not necessarily result in 100% compliance with regulations.


To discover for one type of food that you eat: (a) one or more nutrient(s) and its health benefit(s), and (b) one or more contaminant(s) thathave been foundin that food and its harmful effect Your report MUST be substantiated with a minimum of two peer-reviewed references.

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