Prepare for Summer Outings with Food Safety

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drBenBy DR. BEN FICKENSCHER

Ants aren’t the only pests ready to spoil your picnic. A few easy food handling steps can keep your summertime al fresco meals healthful and fun. According to the National Poison Control Center, one in six people will suffer food poisoning each year. Cases of food poisoning often occur after eating at picnics and large social outings. We see more cases of food-borne illness during the summer due to an influx of visitors to the area and the greater frequency of seafood consumption and outdoor picnics. Simple preparation can keep you healthy and your food safe. The most common cause of food poisoning is improperly cooked, cooled and stored meats, fish and poultry. However, certain vegetables, fruits, dairy and nuts can also cause illness. Safe food handling techniques can help to prevent all types of food poisoning.

According to the National Poison Control Center, four steps can help home cooks keep food as safe as possible:

  1. Clean: Wash your hands and all surfaces that touch meat. Do not wash meat, as it can splash bacteria throughout your kitchen.
  2. Separate: Keep your fruit, poultry, fish and meat separate. This includes the grocery cart, bags and refrigerator. Also use separate cutting boards for each type of food.  Avoid wooden cutting boards because they cannot be cleaned thoroughly.
  3. Cook: Use a thermometer to ensure food is cooked properly. A free food temperature chart is available at foodsafety.org.
  4. Chill: Put leftovers in the refrigerator immediately.  Do not thaw frozen meats on the counter top.

It is also important to avoid foods that look or taste unusual and to thoroughly reheat leftovers. From norovirus to salmonella, there are many illnesses that cause food poisoning. For each strain, the symptoms are similar. The ‘stomach flu,’ or gastroenteritis, is a generic term used to describe infections that cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps and include food-borne illnesses. Just as the symptoms of food poisoning mirror the other causes of gastroenteritis, the treatment is usually identical no matter the cause.

To prevent the spread of disease, treatment should begin at home. Try the following before visiting a physician:

  • Drink a lot of clear liquids that do not contain caffeine, alcohol or high amounts of sugar.
  • Eat small amounts of bland food at regular intervals.
  • Ask your pharmacist for an effective over-the-counter anti-nausea medication.
  • Wash your hands frequently, and limit the number of people you come in contact with.

If symptoms do not go away within a few days, you should call your health care provider or visit the Emergency Department. A  trip to the Emergency Department is absolutely necessary if you are becoming dehydrated, have a high fever, have yellowing of the eyes or skin, blood in your vomit or stool, or you are experiencing pain that does not improve or is in a specific area of the abdomen.

Dr. Ben Fickenscher is an emergency medicine physician at Chesapeake General Hospital with Tidewater Emergency Medical Care, Ltd. For more information about food poisoning, visit poison.org. To contact Tidewater Emergency Medical Care, Ltd., call 757-312-6128.

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