As I vomited all night long, I vowed to be more prudent in selecting and preparing the foods I would eat from now on.
A not so funny thing happened to me on a recent trip to St. Louis, Missouri: I caught a stomach bug! Maybe it was the creamed chicken soup or the Caesar’s salad I consumed upon arriving at my hotel. Perhaps it was caused by my not thoroughly washing my hands earlier in the day when interacting with my toddler child who was recovering from some childhood virus. Whatever the cause, I was nauseatingly sick. As I vomited all night long, I vowed to be more prudent in selecting and preparing the foods I would eat from now on.
Many of you may recall the E. Coli scare during the summer months of 2006. Back then, spinach from California somehow became contaminated with these all-too-common bacteria. Escherichia Coli, a ubiquitous bacterial organism that lives within our gut and the guts of many warm-blooded animals, has many species. Most pose no threat to our well-being, co-habitating our guts in perfect harmony for the length of our lives. Unfortunately, some E. Coli species are known to play havoc with our intestines, causing inflammation, bleeding, and gut-wrenching, excruciating pains. These species are usually found in other animals and are transmitted to us through the handling, or eating, of these animals.
Other bacteria implicated in serious intestinal disturbances include salmonella (mostly from chicken), listeria (from many animals), vibrio (from seafood, usually shellfish), and staphylococcal bacteria (mostly from human handling).
There are many ways to minimize your risk for food-borne infection and illness.
If you bring home restaurant leftovers, please consider doing the following to reduce your risk for sickness: refrigerate your leftovers immediately, especially if they contain meat, poultry, or dairy. Store food in shallow containers to speed up cooling and reheating. Eat leftovers within 48 hours. If you are in doubt about a food’s safety, it is best to err on the side of caution and throw out the food.
- Always check the expiration date on any meat, poultry, fish, or other meat product you purchase and adhere to that date.
- Wash your hands in soap and water before handling food products.
- Clean all fruits and vegetables under running cold water, unless they are already pre-washed. Store all meats and poultry in a cold refrigerator for use within the next 1-3 days or freeze promptly.
- Thaw all foods either in the refrigerator, in bags of cold water, or in the microwave, never at room temperature.
- Do not cut fruits or vegetables on the same cutting board used for raw meat or poultry.
- Because you will cook meats and poultry thoroughly, you do not need to rinse these foods in water prior to cooking. Cook your meat, poultry or other food product to the desired texture, ensuring the temperatures reach a certain minimum degree: pork: 160 Fahrenheit (F), poultry 170-180 F, meat 160 F.
- It is always best to cook seafood, at least to an internal temperature of 145 F, for at least 15 seconds.
Come party time or holiday season, buffet dining becomes more popular. Some safety tips to remember when consuming foods at the buffet include: make sure hot foods are hot (140 F) and cold foods are cold (40 F). If the food has been out of the oven or refrigerator for more than two (2) hours, discard it. Be wary of desserts! They cannot only enhance your waistline; they are more likely to contain dairy products, which allow for rapid proliferation of bacteria. Same goes for egg-containing salad dressings and seasonal drinks such as egg nog.
Lastly, when traveling and you are unsure about the safety of foods, please remember the following: drink only from bottled beverages you personally have opened, eat hot foods hot and cold foods cold, peel all fruits and be wary of pre-rinsed vegetables. Finally, unless you have a working refrigerator at your place of lodging, refrain from carrying out leftovers. Nutrition safety starts and stops with you.
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Dr. Grief is a graduate of McGill University, Montreal, Canada. He is a past Residency Program Director of the University of Illinois at Chicago Department of Family Medicine, and former radio health show host in New Hampshire. Dr. Grief's main inter...