"You don’t want food poisoning as your memento of the Mardi Gras season," says LSU AgCenter nutritionist and food safety expert Dr. Beth Reames. By following some simple practices, you can enjoy the festivities without suffering from foodborne illnesses.
Reames says many people think they have the flu or a 24-hour virus when they’re actually suffering from food poisoning. The symptoms are often the same – stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. More severe infections include headaches, chills and fever, caused by salmonella bacteria.
The nutritionist adds that the very young, the elderly, the chronically ill, those with weak immune systems and pregnant women are more at risk of getting sick from foodborne illness.
In some cases, bacteria grow and produce a toxin in the food before the food is eaten. This occurs with staph food poisoning. You usually will get sick within a short time, in one to four hours. In other cases, such as with salmonella infections, the bacteria can grow in the food and reproduce in the body, too. Symptoms usually appear within 6-12 hours, but it can take longer for illness to occur.
Reames points out that food also can be contaminated by the food handler or unclean surroundings. "Dirty hands are one of the best ways to contaminate foods and spread viruses," Reames says, noting, "There’s no way to keep hands clean in a carnival atmosphere, when you are grappling for beads and trinkets from dirty streets and using unsanitary restrooms." She recommends taking plenty of moist towelettes or baby wipes with you to clean your hands before touching food.
While people faithfully pack their beverages on ice, Reames says they often leave food, like fried chicken, in the original box unrefrigerated for several hours, or even all day. If the outdoor temperature exceeds 45 F, food poisoning bacteria will begin growing after two or three hours. She says contaminated foods can make you sick without looking, smelling or tasting bad.
Keep perishable foods on ice, the food safety specialist recommends. If you don’t want to buy ice or blue ice, make your own ice blocks by freezing water in milk cartons. Or, freeze meat sandwiches the night before.
Reames says fried chicken, potato salad, ham, beef, fish or chicken sandwiches, deviled eggs or egg sandwiches need to be kept cold. Hamburgers and hot dogs must be kept cold before cooking and kept hot afterward. Be sure to keep the baby’s bottle cool and clean.
Contrary to old lore, Reames says mayonnaise does not cause food poisoning. In fact, acids in the condiment actually slow bacterial growth.
Foods that don’t require refrigeration include peanut butter/jelly sandwiches, hard cheeses, unopened canned meats or canned fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, cookies, crackers, chips, breads, fruit pies and fruit juices.
If you depend on street vendors for food, check to see if their concession stands have the facilities to keep their hamburgers and hot dogs refrigerated before cooking and hot after cooking. Take a look at how clean their equipment appears and if the handler’s practices are sanitary.
"Safe food centers around three basic principles," Reames says. "Keep food, hands and equipment clean. Keep hot foods hot B above 140 degrees F. Keep cold foods cold – below 40 degrees F."
For additional information about food safety, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office. Also, log on to the Family and Consumer Sciences section under the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service at the LSU AgCenter Web site: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/.
On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/
Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3329, or firstname.lastname@example.org