Food-Born Illness-An Unwelcome Dinner Guest
Summertime is often a time of picnics and outdoor events where food can be served. They can be great fun until the “flu” sets in. Approximately 60 million Americans suffer from a food-borne illness every year. The majority of these people mistake their illness for a falsehood called the 24-hour flu virus.
In reality, their illness is due to food contamination, which may cause headaches, G.I. distress, diarrhea, fever, vomiting, and/or severe exhaustion. Symptoms may come as early as half hour after eating the contaminated food or they may not develop for several days or weeks. They usually last only a day or two, but in some cases can persist a week to ten days.
The most easily contaminated foods are meat and poultry products. Salmonella and other bacteria that can cause food poisoning enter the food chain at the farm or processing plant. Egg products, tuna, potato and macaroni salads, and cream-filled pastries can also be the home of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. Through proper cooking and handling methods in the home, the risk of spreading or multiplying of bacteria or toxins to dangerous levels can be reduced by 30%. Below are some tips for the home and those picnic sites.
- Wash hands frequently before and after handling of food.
- Wash work surfaces and cutting boards that touch raw meat, fish, or poultry before and after handling food. Acrylic, not wooden boards, are advised. Keep all other utensils and equipment clean.
- Keep raw and cooked foods separate to avoid cross-contamination. Cooked foods can become contaminated if it comes in contact with infected plates, utensils, or raw foods.
- Freeze food at 0 degrees F. or below. Refrigerate foods at 40 degrees F. or below. Check temperature regularly. Keep cold dishes such as potato and macaroni dishes in an ice chest until ready to serve. When serving buffet style, hold cold food containers in a bowl of ice and return leftovers to the ice chest until they can be refrigerated.
- Don’t serve raw fish or dishes made with raw eggs that could contain harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Scrub fresh vegetables well before serving raw.
- Thaw meats and poultry in the refrigerator overnight or in a water tight plastic bag under cold water. Change the water often. Don’t thaw meats at room temperature.
- Cook foods thoroughly. Don’t interrupt cooking since this may encourage bacteria growth before cooking is completed. After meat and poultry are cooked on the grill, serve them immediately. Leftovers should be kept warm on the grill and then stored in coolers to cook quickly.
- Hold hot foods above 40 degrees F. Don’t allow food to sit at room temperature more than 2 hours. Even in a chafing dish, the food isn’t kept hot enough to discourage bacteria growth.
- Cool leftovers quickly in a refrigerator, freezer, or a cooler filled with ice. Divide large batches into smaller portions in shallow containers. Reheat leftovers to at least 165 degrees F. Don’t use a crock-pot to heat leftovers; they won’t get hot enough fast enough.