As the weather begins to warm up, many of us are likely to make plans to enjoy a backyard BBQ, family picnic, campfire cookout, or even a friendly outdoor potluck. But with these tasty outings comes an increased risk of falling victim to a major health risk: food poisoning.
Cases of foodborne illness - A.K.A food poisoning - are not uncommon. In fact, the CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, and 128,000 are hospitalized.From bacteria to viruses to toxins, there are a number of causes behind this stomach-upsetting health issue. And while food poisoning is a year-round risk, occasions where we prepare and eat food outdoors without the proper heating and cooling elements greatly increases our risk for contracting food poisoning.
Fortunately, by taking action to address special food prep needs, you can safely enjoy these seasonal outdoor activities while still protecting your health. Genesis Medical’s favorite tips for preventing food poisoning are as follows:
- Get Food Home Quickly - Before you can even begin preparing food, you have to get it home from the grocery store. Plan your shopping trips accordingly to make sure you don’t make any stops between home and grocery shopping; you don’t want to leave food items sitting in a hot car. Once home, get your food into your refrigerator as quickly as possible to prevent contaminants from multiplying to dangerous levels and spoiling your food. (Additionally, when transporting food items, be sure that raw meat is wrapped securely or else put in a separate container from other food items. More on this later…)
- Wash Your Hands - Ready to get cooking? Not without this step, you aren’t! Not only does washing your hands reduce your risk of developing illnesses such as common colds, but it also protects you from many sources of food poisoning. In fact, the experts agree that preparing food with unwashed hands is one of the prime causes of foodborne illness. So wash your hands before you start handling food, just in case something is lurking on your fingers! You should also wash your hands immediately after handling raw meat during the cooking process.
- Avoid Cross-Contamination - This step ties into the first two, and it’s an important one. Until it’s fully prepared, it’s entirely possible for the very food you’re eating to contaminate another dish you’re making. To avoid this, do not let raw meat come into contact with any ready-to-eat food in your home. This is why it’s important to wash your hands after handling raw meat, and also why it’s important to keep raw food separate from other items when shopping, which we touched on earlier.
- Heat and Refrigerate Properly - If a food item is meant to be heated or refrigerated, it should never be left sitting out for more than two hours (although we would recommend getting them wrapped and stored even sooner, just to be safe!). A good rule of thumb for cooked food is to get it in the fridge without two hours since it’s preparation. If you must leave food out, try to do so in a way that keeps it at an ideal temperature as long as possible.
These prevention steps - combined with sticking to proper cooking guidelines for different dishes and meats - will go a long way in preventing serious cases of food poisoning. But what should you do if you develop symptoms despite this?
Firstly, don’t panic! In many cases, people that contract food poisoning will show only very mild symptoms which can be treated at home. But some instances of food poisoning can still be very dangerous, especially for young children, the elderly and people with conditions that weaken their immune systems. So monitoring symptom severity is key.
Minor symptoms, such as mild dehydration diarrhea, vomiting and fever, can be treated at home. However, it’s still important that you inform your doctor of your symptoms if you do not begin to feel better right away. Your doctor should be contacted if you begin to suffer from symptoms such as severe diarrhea or vomiting for more than one day. 911 should be called immediately if symptoms include severe dehydration, trouble breathing or bloody diarrhea.
Questions? Concerns? Don’t hesitate to give your doctors a call at Genesis Medical to review your own medical history and determine what you need to do to reach a healthier tomorrow.