All around Illinois – and throughout the world – people have adapted their eating habits to stay-at-home orders created in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Family meals are now commonplace. With the additional cooking duties, experienced home cooks are becoming amateur chefs and non-cookers are becoming accomplished home cooks.
But new (and sometimes experienced cooks) need reminders of safe cooking practices. The IPC data shows that number of food poisoning cases reported to the IPC from April 1 to May 15, have decreased due to decreased restaurant exposures, but home cases of food poisoning are unchanged when comparing cases in 2020 to 2019.
Since the upcoming Memorial Day weekend kicks off the warm weather dining season, now seems to be the perfect time to talk about food safety. Whether it is a cozy dinner at home or festive holiday picnic, no one wants to spend any time sitting on, or praying to, the porcelain throne after a tasty meal.
Here are three common foods associated with food poisoning events:
Chicken salad, tuna salad, ham salad, potato salad, macaroni/pasta salad . . . this list goes on. Mayonnaise itself is safe and does not cause food poisoning. Bacteria cause food poisoning and they love to grow in mayonnaise and the foods that are mixed into the salad. These bacteria grow best between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so the longer the food sits at room temperature or above, the more bacteria will grow.
One of the common causes of food poisoning from picnic salads and sandwich spreads is Staphlococcus aureus, more commonly called “staph.” This is the same bacteria that cause skin infections. Many of us are colonized with staph, meaning we carry it around with us, but have no symptoms. When infected individuals prepare food without proper hand hygiene, it is possible that the food they are preparing will become contaminated.
When contaminated food is left at room temperature, the bacteria can grow and secrete a toxin called staph enterotoxin (that is a mouthful). “Entero” refers to the intestine and “toxin” refers to poison, literally meaning “intestinal poison.” This toxin causes abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
(Source: Evening Standard)
Undercooked meats can be a source of food poisoning. Common pathogens include salmonella, camplylobacter and E.coli. Solid meats have surface bacteria and it is important that meat surfaces are well cooked. Ground meat such as hamburger is a bigger risk as these products can have bacteria both on the surface and inside the patty, loaf or meatball. All ground meat should be thoroughly cooked to destroy any bacteria in the center of the product.
(Source: Taste of Home)
No food safety blog can be complete without mentioning poultry. Chicken and other fowl may be contaminated with salmonella, campylobacter or other bacteria during the processing period. Chicken should be thoroughly cooked to kill all bacteria. Another source of potential infection is cross-contamination of utensils and other foods. When preparing chicken, the juices can spread on kitchen surfaces and contaminate other foods. Utensils used on other foods and can lead to infection even though the chicken is properly prepared.
To prevent food poisoning in homes and summer picnics, follow these food preparation safety tips:
- Keep countertops, stovetops, refrigerators, and other food preparation and storage areas clean;
- Do not prepare food if you are sick or have any type of eye or sinus infection;
- Cover raw food and store it below cooked food in the refrigerator to avoid cross contamination;
- Only thaw meat and poultry in the refrigerator or microwave;
- Wash your hands with soap and warm, running water for at least 20 seconds before preparing any foods and especially after handling raw meat, poultry, fish, or eggs;
- Use separate cutting boards: one for meats, poultry and fish and one for bread, fruits and vegetables that can be eaten without further cooking;
- Wash cooking utensils after each use, as dirty utensils can be a source of contamination;
- Use a meat thermometer to confirm that meat and poultry are properly cooked, and visit http://www.foodsafety.gov for temperature guidelines;
- Properly seal and store leftovers in the refrigerator no later than two hours after preparing the food; and
- When in doubt, throw it out, especially when dealing with meat, poultry and dairy.
Enjoy your family meals, safely. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please let us know in the comment box below or contact us at IPCadmin@team-iha.org.
To request a free Complimentary Safety Packet (with sticker, magnet and first-aid recommendations for a poisoning, click here.