Health Tip

Food Safety – Preventing Food Poisoning

Summertime usually means camping, family gatherings, picnics, and BBQs. These are all enjoyable events that leave us with fond memories that will last for the years to come. But what if the only memory you have is about how sick you, your friends and your family got because of food poisoning!

Food poisoning occurs when people consume foods or drinks that contain excessive amounts of bacteria, viruses and/or parasites. It is impossible to tell if food is contaminated with these “bugs” so it is important to take precautions to prevent exposure to these organisms altogether.

The first rule of thumb is that hot foods should be kept hot and cold foods should be kept cold. Food that is exposed to temperatures between 4 C and 60 C are at the ideal temperature for bacteria to grow. It takes less than 2 hours for food to be exposed to improper temperatures before enough bacteria can grow on the food to cause people who eat the food to get sick. The following points should always be followed to reduce your risk of getting food poisoning:

– Wash your hands with soap and clean water! Bacteria can get onto the food we eat because we transfer the bacteria found on our hands onto the food. Wash your hands before you handle food and after you are finished handling the food so bacteria you picked up on your hands doesn’t get transferred to clean food or to others.

– Wash food with clean water before you eat it.

– When transporting raw meat (i.e. when camping or going to a picnic) make sure the meat is well wrapped so blood and juices don’t contact any other food you are transporting. Keep meat in a cooler making sure it stays below 4 C until you use it. If it will be a long time before you will cook your meat, freeze the meat before placing it in the cooler so it will stay cold longer.

– Keep raw meat away from cooked foods. Bacteria from the raw meat can be transferred to cooked or clean food from your hands, utensils you may be using, and cutting boards. Keep these separate and clean.

– When cooking meat, make sure you use a different plate to handle raw meat versus cooked meat. If using a barbeque, heat up the grill before cooking.

– Do not leave food out for longer than 2 hours. Flies and other insects can transfer bacteria onto food if left out too long, causing bacteria to grow on the food.

If you do get symptoms of food poisoning such as fever, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, it is important to drink lots of fluids (ensure it is clean water if you are out camping) to prevent dehydration. The body is trying to remove the dangerous organisms from your system, vomiting and diarrhea is how it tries to accomplish this. Because of this, you should avoid using anti-diarrheal medications if possible. If symptoms persist for more than 24 hours especially if you have a high fever or blood in the stools, seek medical attention.

For more information on ways to treat food poisoning, ask your pharmacist for advice.