Precautionary practices curb food-borne illness risks
Barbecues will be firing up and picnic baskets will be packed as temperatures soar during the upcoming holidays.
Although enjoying a fresh cooked meal or a packed lunch outdoors may be fun for the majority of Carbon County residents, the activity can also be dangerous.
The chance of acquiring a food born illness increases with the temperature, according to state and national health agencies. Therefore, caution must be asserted while participating in any outdoor cooking event.
There are several reasons why barbecued and picnic foods can be hazardous, point out state and federal health agencies.
One of the main reasons why food becomes a source of disease during hot temperatures is the fact that edible items that need to be cold must remain cold. And the same basic rule of thumb applies for warm foods - the edible items must remain warm.
Food should be eaten shortly after being cooked, advises state and federal health experts. To ensure that a warm plate does not contract harmful bacteria, local consumers should keep the food at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter.
Consumers should use caution, however, because the bugs that cause food poisoning thrive at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
To avoid contact with the bugs, residents should keep dishes covered and refrain from allowing food to sit out more than two hours.
If temperatures climb higher than 90 degrees, consumers should allow food to sit out for only one hour before throwing the remains in the trash.
The best rule to remember is when in doubt - throw it out.
The ideal temperature for cold food is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. At the recommended temperature, bacteria will not be able to grow.
To ensure that foods stay cold, a cooler filled with ice should contain the edible items. Residents should put the foods in waterproof containers or wrap in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. The food should then be completely immersed in the ice, not simply placed at the top of the cooler.
Coolers containing food products should not be placed in the trunk of a motor vehicle if possible. The trunk can reach temperatures of 150 degrees Fahrenheit, thus raising the chances of a food-borne illness occurring.
After arriving at the designated picnic area, local consumers should place the cooler in a shaded area in order to maintain cold temperatures. Leave the cooler closed until the contents are to be used.
If the ice melts, people should throw out the food. The water left by the melted ice cannot keep the edible items cold enough to be safe from food-borne illness.
Often times, foods are prepared using mayonnaise based or egg products.
Foods prepared with these condiments in question must remain cold in order to prevent disease.
Mayonnaise is too acidic for bacteria to grow in. But when the product is mixed with other foods, bacteria can grow if a cold temperature is not maintained.
Cut melons also need to be kept cold. Watermelons and cantaloupe can cause food-borne illness. In fact, health experts indicate that bacteria such as salmonella are often times present on the rind of a melon.
To eliminate the bacteria, residents should wash melons thoroughly before cutting and promptly refrigerate the pieces. Because melons are not acidic, harmful bacteria can grow easily on the fruit.
If there is a problem with keeping items cold or hot, then food which does not need refrigeration should be taken on picnics. Safe foods include peanut butter, dried fruit, nuts, unpeeled fresh fruit, jelly sandwiches, cookies and crackers.
Fast foods such as fried chicken can be taken along on an outdoor adventure. But consumers should make sure that the food is eaten within two hours of purchase.
The most serious food-borne illness is the E coli bacteria. To prevent the growth of the bacteria, consumers should make sure that all meats are cooked thoroughly. Consumers should never serve or consume meats that are less than well done.
The rule of thumb is to cook meats so that the internal temperature is at least 170 degrees at the thickest point. For poultry, 180 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended.
Residents should not let color be a guide because many times meat which appears well done tests lower than 170 degrees.
If no thermometer is available, consumers should make sure that hamburgers are not pink in the center and that poultry juices run clear, with no pink hints located near the bone.
When preparing meat and poultry, residents should always make sure to cook the food thoroughly at one time.
Never partially cook food and let it sit, then finish preparing it later. Some toxins are not destroyed by cooking, so reheating food will not make it safe.
Improper preparation practices can also lead to food-borne illness.
To ensure that all bacteria is eliminated, consumers should never defrost food at room temperatures.
In stead, thaw frozen food in the refrigerator or wrap the food in a sealed plastic bag and place it in a large bowl of ice water.
Change the water every 30 minutes until the food is thawed.
Castle Valley consumers should make sure to cook the thawed food immediately to prevent contamination.
When cooking with marinades, residents should make sure that the spicy mixtures do not come into contact with raw meat, chicken or fish.
In addition, state and federal health experts caution people against putting cooked food back into an unwashed container or the dish that contained the marinade.
To ensure food safety, never place a cooked piece of food on the same plate as a raw piece of food or a plate which has held raw meat.
To ensure that dishes are not reused before being thoroughly washed, local residents planning picnics and barbecues should pack plenty of plates and eating utensils.
In fact, disposable plates and eating utensils are recommended for outdoor cooking use by the state and federal health experts.
Any leftovers should be put back in the cooler right after the foods are served.
The longer foods are stored at unsafe temperatures, the more likely bacteria will grow and contaminate the edible picnic and barbecue materials.
Finally, Castle Valley residents should avoid preparing picnic and barbecue foods more than one day before the dishes will be consumed.
Cooking foods in advance allows for more opportunities for bacteria to grow.
Cooked dishes need to be rapidly cooled in shallow pans in order to prevent food-borne illness from plaguing consumers.
In fact, statistics compiled by state and federal health agencies indicate that more than 67 percent of reported cases of food-borne illness occurs as a direct result of improper cooling methods.
Food should be placed in a shallow pan and placed immediately in the refrigerator to prevent the spread of bacteria, according to the health agencies.
In the event a sudden onset of illness similar to the flu should occur, food-borne bacteria may be to blame.
Symptoms commonly experienced by food-borne illness victims include fever, stomach cramps and diarrhea.
In the event a suspected food-related illness results in extremely severe or prolonged flu-like symptoms, Castle Valley residents should schedule an appointment at a doctor's office or contact the local public health department for medical advice.
However, the overall recovery rate for food-borne illness is relatively rapid and generally complete with no permanent effects, conclude the state and federal public health department experts.