Summertime Food Safety Tips
An Annapolis Primary Care Spotlight
Summertime evokes daydreams of warm weather, large gatherings, and lots of food on the menu. Seasonal fruits and
vegetables, seafood, cookouts and barbecues, and ice-cold treats are sure to get you in a celebratory mood during the summer months. But before you dive in to the buffet at the next neighborhood block party, keep the following information in mind: the FDA has issued food safety guidelines that may have you second-guessing the cold cuts that have been sitting out all afternoon.
Food borne pathogens vary by the type of food- vegetables versus undercooked meats, for example- as well as by the type of pathogen, i.e. Salmonella versus E.coli. The most commonly contracted illness from food borne pathogens is gastroenteritis. This is commonly known as a “stomach bug” or “stomach flu,” although this is a misnomer- the stomach flu is not associated with the respiratory flu that hits seasonally, for which we have an annual vaccine.
Symptoms of gastroenteritis are most commonly nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and occasionally a fever. The symptoms usually persist for 3-5 days and can vary in severity; the main risk of gastroenteritis is dehydration, which can lead to cardiac arrhythmias, organ shut-down, and death in extreme cases. Although most patients with gastroenteritis due to food poisoning can manage their symptoms from home, it is important to be in touch with your health care provider, and be seen by a medical professional at the first sign of dehydration. Symptoms that you may need acute medical treatment include rapid heart rate, dizziness or lightheadedness, reduced urine output, or decreased mental status. Anti-nausea medications and intravenous fluid rehydration may be needed.
The most common food borne pathogen in the U.S. is Norovirus, which accounts for nearly 60% of all food borne illnesses, followed closely by Salmonella. Salmonella infection is most likely to cause hospitalization in the U.S., and Salmonella is also the most likely to cause death from food borne illnesses, with 378 deaths in 2011 nationwide. Other infectious agents that are commonly seen include Listeria, Campylobacter, Toxoplasma gondii, and E. coli.
Food safety tips for avoiding infections focus on keeping foods at the proper temperatures while serving, especially in hot weather, and avoiding eating anything that’s been left out for an extended period of time.
- Prepare a number of small platters, and replace serving dishes with new ones throughout the party
- Store unserved hot dishes in an oven at 200-250 degrees before serving, and refrigerate cold dishes until ready to be served
- Don’t add new food to an already-filled serving dish
- If cold food will be out longer than 2 hours, put on ice to retain the chill– cold foods should be kept at 40 degrees or colder
- If hot food will be out longer than 2 hours, be sure to serve in chafing dish that heats to 140 degrees– this is the level at which heat will keep bacteria from growing on the food
- Get a food thermometer to ensure meat has been thoroughly cooked- most meats need to be heated to at least 165 degrees internally
- Keep in mind that guests will inevitably touch the food with their hands, potentially contaminating it- another reason why plates should be replaced with fresh serving dishes and portions throughout the party
For guests taking foods home, 1-2 hours from the time of bagging the food to refrigerating it is safest for preventing food borne illnesses. Dips, cheese chunks, finger sandwiches, fruit salad, and any dairy containing products should be kept refrigerated until ready to serve, and have a 2 hour time limit at room temperature- be sure to discharge them if left out for longer. Lastly, in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees, the safe holding time for perishable items is reduced to 1 hour, so be sure to rotate plates that have been sitting out with fresh ones that have been refrigerated.
Have a happy and safe summer.
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