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Avoid Food Poisoning – Enjoy your next summer BBQ or picnic with these tips

By Premila Mathews, MD | Family Medicine

I am so thankful for the summer weather and excited for all the cookouts that come with it! As many of us enjoy the BBQs and picnics, it is important to pay attention to food safety.

Food poisoning comes from consuming contaminated food. Food can be contaminated by germs including bacteria, viruses, parasites, or natural toxins such found in some mold and mushrooms. Symptoms of food poisoning include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in six Americans get sick each year from consuming contaminated food.

Here are some tips when preparing and storing your food:

  1. Clean hands and workspace: First and foremost, be sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before, during, and after preparing food, and before eating. The area for preparing food and the utensils should also be washed in hot, soapy water.
  2. Separate food: Do not cross-contaminate raw and uncooked meat, poultry, and seafood. Keep plates, utensils, and cutting boards used for preparing raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from those used for cooked meat, poultry, and seafood.
  3. Store cold food: Keep cold or perishable food in the refrigerator or use a cooler with ice to keep food chilled. When outside, keep the cooler out of direct sunlight and cover with a blanket to keep contents insulated. Keep your refrigerator’s temperature below 40°F and never leave perishable food out for more than two hours (or one hour if you’re outside and the temperature exceeds 90°F).
  4. Use a thermometer: In order to ensure food is cooked thoroughly, use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature of meat and poultry.  You can get these in most grocery stores. Here are CDC’s recommended guidelines:
    1. 145°F for whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, lamb, and seafood ( allow the meat to rest for three minutes before carving or eating)
    2. 160°F for ground meats, such as beef and pork
    3. 165°F for all poultry, including ground chicken and turkey
    4. 165°F for leftovers and casseroles
    5. 145°F for fresh ham (raw)
    6. 145°F for fin fish or cook until flesh is opaque

If you do get food poisoning, most importantly, keep hydrated by drinking fluids. Wash your hands frequently and do not share utensils to prevent passing the infection to others. For most people, the symptoms get better within a few days; however, some people may need IV fluids if they are severely dehydrated. This can happen more often in the elderly or young children. Some food-borne illnesses may be treated with antibiotics. See your doctor if you have blood in your stool or if you are concerned about your symptoms.

References: CDC Food Safety Tips