Dont Let Unexpected Visitors “Spoil” Summer Meals

 

With summer’s arrival, we begin our traditional warm-weather activities ‘the beach, backyard barbecues’ and foodborne illness. Yes, foodborne illness. Summer is prime time for food “poisoning.” An assessment of risk recently issued in draft form by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) reports that the risk of foodborne illness from E. coli may be three times greater during the summer than the rest of the year. A possible reason, says FSIS, is that E. coli infection of cattle increases during the summer, resulting in the possibility of more beef at the store harboring the potentially fatal H7:O157 form of the bacteria. But consumers compound the problem by not handling foods safely.

The Statistics Will Turn Your Stomach. Think it couldn’t happen at your house? Think again. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that a staggering 76 million people contract foodborne illness each year. Most likely to get sick? Those with poorly developed or weakened immune systems, such as infants, young children, the elderly and those who are pregnant, undergoing cancer treatment or have diabetes, kidney disease or AIDS.

This season, whether dining al fresco or indoors, make food safety a priority.

 

First and Foremost, Cleanliness:

 

  • Wash your hands! (See EN‘s “Handwashing 101.”)
  • Avoid preparing food if you’re sick. Even proper handwashing is no guarantee that all viral and bacterial contamination will be removed.
  • Use latex gloves if you have cuts or burns on your hands (at the least, cover with adhesive bandages). Infected cuts are a common source of Staphylococcus aureus contamination.

 

Prepare with Care:

 

  • Never marinate meat, fish or poultry at room temperature. Boil marinade for two minutes before using as a sauce on cooked meat.
  • Prevent cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards for meat and for vegetables; clean all utensils well between uses with soap and hot, running water.

 

Cook Foods Adequately:

 

  • Thoroughly cook meat and poultry; heat destroys most of the microorganisms that cause foodborne illness.
  • Use a thermometer. You can’t always tell if food is done by looking at it. Here are the temperatures needed to destroy microorganisms:

 

145-Beef, lamb and veal steaks and roasts, medium-rare.
160-Ground meat; pork chops, ribs and roasts; egg dishes.
165-Ground poultry; hot dogs.
170-Chicken and turkey breasts.
180-Chicken and turkey legs, thighs, wings and whole birds.

  • Skip raw seafood, such as that in sushi. Instead, steam or grill fish. With seafood, you can use visual cues to determine when it’s done. Cook fin fish until the flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Cook mollusks until shells open.
  • Heat hot dogs until steaming hot. Cured meats can carry Listeria, especially dangerous for pregnant women, small children and older people. The CDC estimates that 2,500 people become seriously ill with listeriosis each year. Of these, one in five die.

 

Serve With Safety in Mind:

 

  • Keep cold foods on ice in a cooler until ready to serve. A full cooler maintains its temperature longer than one that’s partially filled, so pack plenty of extra ice or freezer packs to keep the temperature cold.
  • Use separate utensils for each dish.
  • Never serve food on a plate that has held raw meat, poultry or fish.
  • Don’t let food sit out for more than two hours, often the case at picnics. If the heat reaches 90 degrees, don’t leave food out for more than one hour.

 

Hand washing 101

Proper handwashing is the best way to destroy bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Here’s expert advice from Donald Schaffner, Ph.D., a food science specialist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension in New Brunswick, New Jersey:
P Wash with warm, not hot, water. Hot water dries skin, and it’s more difficult to remove bacteria from the cracks and grooves in dry skin.
P Use soap, but it doesn’t have to be antibacterial soap. Studies show antibacterial soap is only slightly more effective than regular soap.
P Rub hands vigorously while washing. Friction helps soap break up the oils on your hands that entrap bacteria.
P Wash hands for at least 15 to 20 seconds. Time yourself by singing “Happy Birthday To You” twice or counting to 30.
What about hand sanitizers? They kill bacteria on clean hands. “Sanitizers don’t work well on dirty or greasy hands,” says Schaffner. Use only when water isn’t available. –L.H.
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