Monday, June 17, 2013

Picnics, Barbeques—and Food Poisoning?

     It’s summer time and the living is easy. But that juicy hamburger, creamy deviled egg or homemade ice cream you’re eating could contain bacteria, viruses or parasites. Food poisoning occurs when these harmful organisms get into food during its processing, handling, transportation, cooking or storing. According to internist Jerry Correces, M.D., food poisoning most often occurs at home due to improper cooking or handling.

     Use water as your first defense against food-borne illness. Wash your hands before prepping food and thoroughly rinse produce. Uncooked foods are particularly risky because harmful organisms have not been destroyed during the cooking process. It’s also a good idea to keep separate cutting boards for veggies and uncooked meats.

      Picnic food safety boils down to a simple premise: keep cold foods cold and hot food hot. Of course, easier said than done when you’re hosting 50 guests, flipping burgers and enjoying a cold beverage. But advanced preparation can be the difference between a successful party and sick party-goers.

Keep cold food cold
  • Use ice or frozen gel packs to keep food at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent bacterial growth. Rule of thumb: fill your cooler with one-fourth of ice or ice substitute.
  • Separate food and beverages into two separate coolers since picnickers open and close coolers often to grab drinks.
  • Use plastic bags to keep raw meats and fish securely wrapped and pack in a separate cooler from other food and beverages.
  • Keep foods like chicken salad or desserts on trays of ice and replace ice frequently. 
  • According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, cold food should not sit outdoors longer than two hours, or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees.
  • To keep food at its optimal temperature, avoid putting the cooler in the trunk of your car or in direct sunlight. Cover the cooler with a blanket for extra insulation. 

Keep hot foods hot
  • Check whether your meat is done by using a food thermometer (160 degrees F for hamburger and 165 degrees Fahrenheit for chicken).
  • Use the side of your grill rack to keep meats hot until serving. 
  • Use a clean platter for cooked meats—not the same platter that held the raw meat.
  • Wrap hot foods in foil and place in an insulated container. 
  • Eat carry-out food such as fried chicken within one hour of pickup.

     When all the guests have gone and Aunt Helen’s deviled eggs remain, when in doubt, throw out. And remember, zapping that Cajun rice dish in the microwave is not the cure-all for eliminating harmful organisms. The bacteria will be killed, but harmful toxins will remain.

Feeling lousy?
      Food poisoning is common and usually mild, but in some cases it can be deadly. It’s especially worrisome in older adults, young children, pregnant women, people undergoing cancer treatment and those with chronic conditions such as diabetes or liver disease.

      According to Dr. Correces, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramping and overall weakness are likely signs of food poisoning. Symptoms from the most common types of food poisoning usually start within two to six hours of eating the food. The best treatment plan, says Dr. Correces, is the BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) diet and drinking plenty of fluids containing electrolytes. Symptoms subside in several days, but be sure to drink plenty of fluids and rest.

By: Anne Gill

Source: Food Facts, U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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