The role of gastric acid in preventing foodborne disease and how bacteria overcome acid conditions

J Food Prot. 2003 Jul;66(7):1292-303. doi: 10.4315/0362-028x-66.7.1292.


The secretion of hydrochloric acid by the stomach plays an important role in protecting the body against pathogens ingested with food or water. A gastric fluid pH of 1 to 2 is deleterious to many microbial pathogens; however, the neutralization of gastric acid by antacids or the inhibition of acid secretion by various drugs may increase the risk of food- or waterborne illnesses. Peptic ulcer disease is often treated by decreasing or eliminating gastric acid secretion, and such treatment blocks the protective antibacterial action of gastric fluid. The majority of peptic ulcer disease cases originate from Helicobacter pylori infections. Treatment of H. pylori-induced peptic ulcers with antibiotics reduces the need for drugs that inhibit gastric acid secretion and thereby diminishes the risk of food- and waterborne illness for peptic ulcer disease patients. Many bacterial pathogens, such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella Typhimurium, and H. pylori, can circumvent the acid conditions of the stomach by developing adaptive mechanisms that allow these bacteria to survive in acid environments. As a consequence, these bacteria can survive acidic stomach conditions and pass into the intestinal tract, where they can induce gastroenteritis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antacids / adverse effects*
  • Antacids / therapeutic use
  • Foodborne Diseases / etiology
  • Foodborne Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Gastric Acid / metabolism
  • Gastric Acid / physiology*
  • Gastroenteritis / etiology
  • Gastroenteritis / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Peptic Ulcer / drug therapy
  • Stomach / drug effects
  • Stomach / microbiology


  • Antacids