Summer Meal Safety: Preventing food poisoning

From picnics to larger gatherings, sharing a meal is an important part of this season, and many of those meals will be shared outside. While heat can be detrimental to humans, it can also damage/spoil food. Read on to learn about food poisoning and how to prevent it this summer.

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning occurs when an individual gets sick after eating food in which certain bacteria has had a chance to grow. These bacteria produce poisons that can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

How can food poisoning be prevented?

The bacteria that cause food poisoning do not affect the look, smell, or taste of food. For this reason, there is no way to know that the food is potentially harmful. These bacteria thrive in foods that have been stored for extended periods of time, especially if they were not refrigerated, have not been thoroughly cooked or have been left in a warm place for too long after cooking. To protect yourself and family, practice safe storage and preparation practices.

When preparing meat

A steak has bacteria on its cut surface but not on the inside. Therefore, broiling or grilling will kill the bacteria even if the inside is still pink. Ground beef or lamb generally have bacteria inside. The meat must be chilled between grinding and cooking to prevent growth, and then cooked thoroughly.

When preparing dairy

Dairy products require the same treatment. Keep foods made with milk chilled on ice or in a refrigerator until used. Milk that is purchased in the store is pasteurized, which means it has been briefly heated to destroy disease-causing bacteria. Once milk is mixed with other ingredients, it should be refrigerated promptly, cooked, or eaten.

When consuming fruits & vegetables

Fruits and vegetables have naturally protective skins that keep dangerous bacteria out. Dirt and debris on the outside, though, can be contaminated with dangerous bacteria coming from fertilizer or the unwashed hands of handlers. Even after they are washed, fruits and vegetables can be contaminated by knives or cutting boards that have not been adequately cleaned prior to use. If those boards, whether wood, plastic or otherwise, were used to cut or chop meat or meat products, they must be regularly cleaned by scrubbing with a brush, soap and water, and sanitized with a diluted bleach solution.

Work surfaces and sinks in the kitchen, by virtue of their use, are usually contaminated despite the routine cleaning. Sanitize them before food preparation by physically scrubbing with soap and water. Prepared foods that you wish to keep, should be cooled in small containers and promptly chilled in a refrigerator with space between containers to permit cold air circulation.

How is food poisoning treated?

For the most part, this illness is self-limited, with the first symptoms usually appearing within six to thirty hours of ingestion and ending in twenty-four to thirty-six hours. Treatment involves replenishing fluids lost to vomiting and diarrhea. Medical treatment is necessary if the individual is unable to drink fluids or is having severe belly pain, especially if it is accompanied by fever.

By nature, we are remarkably resistant to food poisoning. However, young children, the elderly and individuals undergoing chemotherapy are more vulnerable and can become quite ill.

By keeping a clean kitchen and practicing the simple strategies above, you can enjoy a safe, healthy, and delicious summer!