Suns out, buns out. . . hot dog and hamburger buns that is. With warmer days ahead, outdoor gatherings and cookouts are around the corner. Summertime always brings the risk of significant illness from poorly cooked foods or foods left to the heat of the sun and flies.
Foodborne illnesses are preventable. The onset of symptoms may occur within minutes to weeks and often with flu-like symptoms- nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or fever. More significant symptoms are severe dehydration (decreased urine output), weakness, and even bloody vomit or diarrhea. Because symptoms are often flu-like, people may not recognize the illness is caused by harmful bacteria in food. By the time the more worrisome symptoms have begun, the individual is often very ill.
Everyone can get sick from a foodborne illness. How sick you get can vary. Some people become ill after ingesting only a few harmful bacteria; others remain symptom free after ingesting thousands- aka the iron stomach.
Bacteria and viruses are the most common cause of food poisoning. The big ones make the news. We all consume a little bit on the daily, but our stomach acid and immune systems fight back. Bacteria or viruses may be present on food at the time of purchase which is why cleaning produce and meat is important.
To prevent illness, always follow these food safety steps:
- Clean—Wash hands and surfaces often.
- Separate—Don’t cross-contaminate.
- Cook—Cook to proper temperatures, checking with a food thermometer.
- Chill—Refrigerate promptly.
Bacteria are an important part of our environment and in our own bodies, but when they are in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong amount, chaos can ensue. Even safely cooked and prepared food can become cross-contaminated with pathogens transferred from raw egg products and raw meat, poultry, seafood products, and their juices, other contaminated products, or from food handlers with poor personal hygiene. Most cases of foodborne illness can be prevented with proper cooking or processing of food which destroys pathogens.
Bacteria multiply rapidly between 40 °F and 140 °F. To keep food out of this “Danger Zone,” keep cold food cold and hot food hot.
Should you experience a foodborne illness, please follow these general guidelines:
- Preserve the evidence. Wrap the suspect food securely, mark “DANGER,” and freeze it. Save all the packaging materials.
- Seek treatment as necessary.
- Call the local health department if the suspect food was served at a large gathering, was from a restaurant, or if it is a commercial product.