What’s not to like? Potato salad, barbecued chicken, and fresh fruits and veggies. Warm weather inspires outdoor outings equipped with picnic favorites.
But with summertime staples, perhaps prepared and eaten outdoors, come possible health risks.
If food is handled or cooked improperly, it can become contaminated and there’s a chance you can get a food-borne illness.
Who’s at risk?
Anyone is susceptible. However, because most people have a healthy immune system, they wouldn’t necessarily get sick from contaminated foods.
However, there are some who are at greater risk: pregnant women, young children, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems by disease (e.g., cancer, HIV/AIDS, and diabetes) or medical treatment, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Those in at-risk categories should take care to avoid foods that are more prone to carrying harmful bacteria. Foods to avoid include raw or undercooked meat, raw fish and shellfish, unpasteurized milk and milk products, soft cheeses such as brie and feta, unwashed vegetables, deli meats, and raw sprouts.
Symptoms and treatment
Food poisoning symptoms depend on the source of contamination. However, most types of food poisoning lead to:
- Stomach pain and cramps
Your symptoms will generally develop within four to six hours after getting infected and shouldn’t last for more than two days. If you’re sick longer than two days, call your doctor. You can check the status of your doctor’s license by visiting the Medical Board of California’s website, www.mbc.ca.gov.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food-borne illnesses are common—one in six Americans get sick from contaminated food or beverages. Although most people fully recover, for some, it can lead to kidney failure, chronic arthritis, brain and nerve damage, or even death. If you have symptoms such as bloody vomit or stools, diarrhea for more than three days, signs of dehydration (e.g., increased thirst, dry mouth, weakness, dizziness), extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping, and a fever of higher than 101.5 degrees, get in touch with your doctor right away.
Above all, stay hydrated with water. When you’re feeling better, you can start eating bland foods, such as crackers and broth.
Is it food poisoning or stomach flu?
Think back to what you ate over the past few hours, and find out if others who ate the same food item got sick as well. Generally, you’ll get sick within four to six hours of eating the contaminated food. The incubation period for stomach flu is 24 to 48 hours, and unlike food poisoning, which generally goes away within a couple days, stomach flu can last up to 10 days. If you do think you have stomach flu versus food poisoning, be sure to stay home to avoid getting others sick.
Whether you think you have a food-borne illness or the stomach flu, be sure to stay hydrated and contact your doctor if you aren’t getting better within a few days.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ website describes “4 Simple Steps to Food Safety”:
- Clean: Before, during, and after cooking, wash hands, surfaces, and utensils. Wash your fruits and vegetables, but not meat, poultry, or eggs.
- Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate. Use a separate cutting board and plates for raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs. Keep those items separate from other foods in the fridge as well.
- Cook: Use a food thermometer to make sure that food has gotten to a high enough temperature to get properly cooked. The “danger zone” is between 40 and 140 degrees, so cooked food should be kept at a temperature higher than 140 degrees.
- Chill: Refrigerate promptly. With summer weather, foodborne bacteria can grow at a fast rate. Food poison-inducing bacteria can grow in perishable foods within two hours if you don’t properly refrigerate.
Of course, if you’re at a potluck or a picnic where others provide the food, you won’t know and have control of how the food is prepared and stored—barring an awkward interrogation of the host. But survey the situation; if the food looks and smells off, and you’re eating outside on a warm day, you may want to pass on the potato salad.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: www.foodsafety.gov
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: www.fda.gov
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov
U.S. Department of Agriculture: www.askkaren.gov
Reprinted from Consumer Connection Magazine – Summer 2017. To read that issue, click here.
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