Safe Summer Fare

By Kristina Powell, MD

Safe Summer Fare

In 2007, we experienced several health scares from sources we normally think of as staples of good health: food borne illnesses from vegetables, fruits and that favorite of all kids, peanut butter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports approximately 76 million cases of food poisoning every year, most of which are mild and over in a day or two. In rare cases, however, food poisoning can cause serious illness and death.

There are more than 250 food-borne diseases caused by a wide variety of sources that contaminate foods in dozens of different ways. So it would be nearly impossible to avoid the risk of food poisoning completely. But there are steps you can take to reduce the risk that food poisoning will occur in your home.

Be especially careful with the common sources of food-borne illnesses. Raw foods of animal origin, such as raw meat and poultry, raw eggs, unpasteurized milk and raw shellfish, are the most likely foods to be contaminated. Fruits and vegetables consumed raw, unpasteurized fruit juices and raw sprouts are also a particular concern.

The following tips can help you reduce your chances of serving food that could make you or your children sick.

Clean. Wash produce. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables in running tap water to remove visible dirt and grime. Remove and discard the outer leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage. Keep cut produce chilled until it’s time to eat.

Wash. Wash your hands in warm soapy water before preparing food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling raw meat, chicken or fish. Cutting boards, knives, cooking utensils and countertops should be washed in hot soapy water after preparing each item. Avoid preparing food for others if you have diarrhea.

Separate. Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood away from other foods – particularly those that will be eaten raw such as fruits and vegetables. If you use a knife on raw chicken, wash it in hot soapy water before you use it to slice a tomato.

Cook. Many of the bacteria and viruses that cause food poisoning are killed at high temperatures. Cook steaks and roasts to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit, chicken to 180 degrees and ground beef to 160 degrees. Use a meat thermometer to be sure.

Chill. Cold temperatures keep harmful bacteria from multiplying. Set your refrigerator to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer to zero. Put leftovers away within an hour of dinner and refrigerate perishables as soon as you get home from the store.

Report. Report any suspected food-borne illness to the local health department.

Dr. Powell practices with CHKD Health System’s Pediatric Associates of Williamsburg.