by Roderick Brown, MD, Family Medicine
With grilling and picnic season on the horizon, it is important to keep proper food handling in mind. The preparation and storage of food is extremely important in preventing, thus avoiding, food poisoning. Although anyone can get sick when eating contaminated food, pregnant women, older adults and people with chronic illnesses are more likely to get sick.
Salmonella, Norovirus, Clostridium Perfringens, Listeria Monocytogenes, E. Coli, and Staphylococcus Aureus are big words that mean essentially the same thing – these are bacteria and viruses that cause foodborne illness – food poisoning. Your chance of eating or drinking contaminated foods or beverages is one in six! To avoid having a bad week, do everything you can to prevent it.
Symptoms of food poisoning include mild to severe nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever and chills, weakness, and dehydration. Often called “the stomach flu” or “the 24-hour bug,” gastrointestinal illness strikes within hours or days of eating the offending food. Mild symptoms are unpleasant and usually gone within a few days. Severe vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, which may require medical attention.
To prevent food poisoning remember to “Clean / Separate / Cook / Chill / Report”.
Clean – Good personal and kitchen hygiene can lower the risk of food poisoning. Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds every single time you prepare food. Wash your hands again after handling raw meat. Wash fruits and vegetables before peeling or cutting them. Wash surfaces and utensils with soap and water after each use. Do not wash meat or poultry as this can cause raw juice to splash and spread to other foods and surfaces.
Separate – Cross-contamination can happen where it is least expected and is a common way that germs are spread. Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils for meat and produce. Do not serve cooked meat on the same plate that the raw meat was on, and do not use cooking utensils for serving. Keep raw meat and poultry away from other foods in the grocery cart and in your refrigerator.
Cook – Practically every food contains some bacteria; most of them are harmless or get destroyed by cooking. Do you know the safe internal temperature of hamburger? The use of a food thermometer takes the guesswork out of safe internal temperatures. The thermometer will likely indicate the safe temperature for various types of meat. If not, post a reminder near your oven or grill.
Chill – It is important to keep cold foods cold. Avoid deli meat and mayo-based salads that have been set out at room temperature longer than two hours. The kitchen will look better and your leftover food will be safer when you clean up right away. Refrigerate any perishable food within two hours. When in doubt, throw it out.
Report – Call your healthcare provider if you think you have food poisoning, and call 911 if it is an emergency. If you became ill after eating at a restaurant, you may want to contact your local health department.
How do you treat food poisoning?
If your symptoms are mild, sip as many non-caffeinated liquids as possible to replace lost fluids and keep hydrated. Symptoms should subside within a few days and you can ease back into eating small amounts of food that are easy on the stomach like oatmeal, bananas, applesauce, and dry toast.
Seek medical attention if you have bloody diarrhea or develop a headache, stiff neck, fever, rapid heart rate, dizziness, faintness, tingling in your arms and legs, or blurred vision. When in doubt, contact your doctor, nurse practitioner or clinic triage nurse. They are your best source of information.