Cooking for crowds complicates food safety

Tobie Blanchard  |  10/25/2017 5:49:28 PM

BATON ROUGE, La. – An outbreak of foodborne illness in Caldwell Parish highlights the importance of safe food handling.

LSU AgCenter food safety expert Wenqing Xu said officials with the Louisiana Department of Health are still testing samples of jambalaya meals. The meals were sold as a fundraiser and are believed to be responsible for the outbreak.

Xu said two foodborne pathogens have been identified, Clostridium perfringens and salmonella. The health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating one death and more than 100 illnesses linked to the jambalaya.

“Clostridium perfringens can reproduce rapidly and grows faster than most foodborne pathogens,” Xu said.

According to Xu, it can take days for symptoms of salmonella poisoning to show up, but with Clostridium perfringens, illness can occur quickly after consumption.

Xu said jambalaya is a challenging food for investigators – it has rice, vegetables, sausage and chicken so it is hard to pinpoint which was the issue.

Many outbreaks associated with Clostridium perfringens are usually in undercooked meat in quantities of food prepared for large groups. It is often called the food service germ.

Xu said issues can occur in the way the food was handled.

“Was it prepared the day before? How long was it held at certain temperatures?” Xu said.

Preparing large quantities of food can be difficult, Xu said. “It takes longer to heat up and longer to cool down. The more people helping can increase the risk of cross contamination,” she said.

Xu said the key principles of food safety are the same when cooking for two people or 200 – clean, cook, chill and separate.

Clean hands, surfaces and utensils with hot soapy water. Cook meats to proper temperatures by using a food thermometer. Keep raw meat chilled until use and return perishable foods to the refrigerator within two hours after preparing. Separate raw foods from cooked foods to avoid cross contamination.

Xu conducts a food safety workshop, Food Safety When Cooking for Large Groups, aimed at people who cook for fundraisers, potluck dinners or after disasters. She said anyone who cooks for crowds should consider participating in a workshop.

For more information, please contact your LSU AgCenter office or Xu at wenqing.xu@agcenter.lsu.edu.

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