It’s time to fire up the grill and plan warm-weather deck parties, picnics and family gatherings. Just be careful that you and your friends don’t suffer ill effects from uninvited guests — bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
Safe food handling is a cornerstone of food service at Yampa Valley Medical Center. The same practices can be applied at home to reduce your risk.
Each year, about one in six Americans gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2011, there was a serious outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes from Rocky Ford cantaloupes. The CDC reports that 146 people from 28 states, including 40 from Colorado, were infected.
“When the Listeria outbreak occurred last year, we pulled our cantaloupes from patient care areas and the cafeteria,” YVMC Registered Dietician Jennifer Thomsen said. “We also educated our food service employees to continue thoroughly washing all raw fruits and vegetables and sanitizing all surfaces.”
Typical symptoms of foodborne illness are stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms can start hours or days after consuming contaminated food or drink.
Most healthy people recover in a few hours or a few days without treatment. But foodborne illness can be severe and even life-threatening to those most at risk:
■ Older adults
■ Infants and young children
■ Pregnant women
■ People with HIV/AIDS, cancer or any condition that weakens their immune systems
“There are many challenges to preventing foodborne illnesses. It is very important to know and practice basic food safety measures,” Thomsen said.
She recommends practicing four basic food-safety measures that will help prevent foodborne illness.
1 Clean: The first rule of safe food preparation is to keep everything clean.
Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food. This means the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
Wash surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, countertops) after preparing each food item and before going on to the next item.
Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
2 Separate: Don’t give bacteria the opportunity to spread from one food to another. Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood and their juices away from foods that won’t be cooked while shopping in the store, and while preparing and storing at home.
Consider using one cutting board only for foods that will be cooked (raw meat, poultry and seafood) and another one only for ready-to-eat foods (such as raw fruits and vegetables).
Do not put cooked meat on an unwashed plate that has held raw meat.
3 Cook: Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria.
Always use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature. Bring sauces, soups and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. When making a recipe calling for raw eggs, use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products or powdered egg whites.
Don’t eat uncooked cookie dough, which may contain raw eggs.
4 Chill: Refrigerate foods quickly because harmful bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods within two hours.
Set your refrigerator no higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer at zero degrees. Check both periodically with an appliance thermometer.
Never defrost food at room temperature. Food can be defrosted safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water or in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
Don’t taste food that looks or smells questionable. When in doubt, throw it out.
Rosie Kern is a communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at email@example.com.