Question of the Week

May 24, 2004


"The sunny days of summer bring hot temperatures and outdoor gatherings. It's also a time of increased risk of food poisoning. While most Americans realize that May through September poses the biggest threat of foodborne illness, a survey conducted by the American Dietetic Association and the ConAgra Foundation shows that consumers are not practicing correct outdoor food safety procedures."

Food poisoning?

"Food poisoning is the result of eating organisms or toxins in contaminated food. Most cases of food poisoning are from common bacteria like Staphylococcus or E. coli.... Food poisoning tends to occur at picnics, school cafeterias, and large social functions. These are situations where food may be left unrefrigerated too long or food preparation techniques are not clean. Food poisoning often occurs from undercooked meats or dairy products (like mayonnaise mixed in coleslaw or potato salad) that have sat out too long...."

What can you do to avoid foodborne illnesses?

"Keep Raw Meats and Ready-to-Eat Foods Separate
* Bring extra plates - one for handling raw foods and another for cooked foods to prevent cross-contamination.
* Marinate foods in the refrigerator. Don't reuse marinade used on raw meat or poultry unless boiled.

"Cook to Proper Temperatures
* Cook your favorite foods to the right temperature by using a meat thermometer; hamburger to at least 160° F and chicken breasts to 170° F.
* Never partially grill meat or poultry to finish cooking later.

"Refrigerate Promptly below 40° F
* Pack food in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or icepacks to keep temperature below 40° F.
* Transport the cooler in the back seat of your air-conditioned car instead of in your hot trunk.
* Remove from the cooler only the amount of raw meat that will fit on the grill.
* Defrost meat, poultry and seafood in the refrigerator before taking them to the grill.
* Don't leave food outside in hot weather (90° F or above) for more than one hour."

Even if you are not preparing (or eating) the meat, there is still a need to be careful. Avoid using the same cutting board for both meats and vegetables to avoid cross-contamination. Vegetables are often eaten raw, or not cooked to the same temperatures as meats; this decreases the likelihood that the germs will be killed during the cooking process.

"Wash Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
* Nearly all types of fruits and vegetables have been implicated in food-borne illnesses.
* All fruits and vegetables should be washed with running water before cooking and/or serving.
* Use a vegetable brush and running water (no soap) to clean the outside of melons. Bacteria and other pathogens can be transferred to the inside of the fruit or vegetable by cutting through it.
* Cut melons, fruits and vegetables should be kept cold. When served outdoors, consider placing the serving dish on ice or immediately store in an ice chest after serving."

What if you are not preparing the food? If you or someone you know is eating it, you still need to be aware.

The symptoms from the most common types of food poisoning generally start within 2 to 6 hours of eating the food responsible. That time may be longer (even a number of days) or shorter, depending on the toxin or organism responsible for the food poisoning...."

"Known pathogens account for an estimated 14 million illnesses, 60,000 hospitalizations, and 1,800 deaths. Three pathogens, Salmonella, Listeria, and Toxoplasma, are responsible for 1,500 deaths each year, more than 75% of those caused by known pathogens, while unknown agents account for the remaining 62 million illnesses, 265,000 hospitalizations, and 3,200 deaths."

So, what happens if someone does get sick?

"The type of treatment you'll get for food poisoning will depend on the specific germ that is making you sick. The doctor might give you medicine, but most of the time people who have food poisoning don't need to take medicine. It's also rare that a kid with food poisoning would need to go to the hospital. Usually, only people who get really dehydrated (lose too many fluids from their bodies because of vomiting or diarrhea) have to go to the hospital. There they will probably get IVs, or intravenous (say: in-trah-vee-nus) lines, of fluid and medicine."
Kids Health

So, what can you do?

Questions of the Week:
When packing a lunch, what foods would be safe to bring out on a hot (or even just a warm) day? What foods should be kept cold? Is an icepack in your lunch bag going to be enough? What about when going to a picnic? What foods make better choices to bring outside for the day (or even just a couple hours)? What foods should you avoid after they have been out for a while? Finally, if you or someone you know does get sick, what should you do?

*Please note: The Question of the Week will not be sent next week in observance of the Memorial Day holiday. It
will return the following week and continue throughout the summer.*

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

Request Question of the Week by email 
QoW Archives: 9/2002 - 8/2003 9/2003 - 8/2004 9/2004 - 8/2005 9/2005 - 8/2006 9/2006 - present

Custom Search on the AE Site