Picnic Safety: Food Borne Illnesses

Food borne illnesses can be common, especially in the warm weather and eating outside at picnics. Here are some tips to keep you safe.

Keeping food safe at spring picnics.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It is the warm season of spring that brings picnics and barbecues. Throughout Montclair, the number of people who enjoy their lunch outside is increasing. However, the warm weather also brings potential dangers because of the increase in temperatures poses a danger in food safety.

Even though many people take measures in watching what they eat, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year approximately one in six people (or 48 million people nationwide) get sick. Of the people who are affected by the food poisoning, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of the food-borne diseases. Just by reducing food-borne illness down to 10 percent would result in keeping five million Americans from getting sick annually.

In the Montclair community, daytime temperatures exceeding 75 degrees started to become common in April, and as a result concerns regarding food-borne illnesses are increasing. Although food-borne illness is more common during the summer months, the warm weather during the spring is still responsible for causing thousands of food-related illnesses.

They are microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungus and parasites, that grow in your food causing the food poisoning. As they consume your food and digest it, some molds and bacteria produce toxins that are harmful for your body if you ingest it. In other cases, bacteria and parasites may grow rapidly as they digest the food, and when the food is consumed by you, these microbes enter your body and cause infections.  Therefore, it is extremely important to properly store the food and handle it.

Although the temperature rarely exceeds over 85 degrees until June in Montclair, the food left in containers certainly will if it had been sealed and is exposed to the sun, or any other source of heat. The temperature at which the microbes contaminate the food falls between 40 to  140 degrees, also known as “the danger zone.” At above 40 degrees, the environment becomes favorable for microbes to thrive and above 60 degrees, there is much more vigorous growth of the microbes occur as they consume your food. The danger lingers until it reaches 140 degrees, which is the temperature that harmful microbes cannot thrive at. Therefore, it is essential to cook the food with the temperature above 140 degrees if the food had been sitting out.

The CDC recommends the following precautions to protect yourself from food-borne illness:

  • Cook meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly. It is a good idea to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat, so you can be sure that the meat is cooked thoroughly to kill microbes.
  • Prevent cross-contamination. Always wash your hands, utensils and cutting boards after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.
  • Refrigerate leftovers promptly, as microbes can grow in your food even at the temperature as low as 40 degrees.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water before handling food. Avoid preparing food for others if you have a diarrheal illness, as it is contagious.

Some of the symptoms of food poisoning include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramps and fever. Although most food-borne illness do not cause serious symptoms that require hospitalization, it is a good idea to seek medical attention if you are experiencing diarrhea for more than three days, bloody vomit or stools, extreme pain in the abdomen or a body temperature higher than 101.5 degrees. Certain types of people should take special caution. If you are pregnant, or have a liver disease, you are at high risk for contracting food-borne illness and falling ill. Infants and the elderly, and people with weakened immune system are also at higher risk from food-borne illness.

If you suspected yourself or others with food-borne illness and are experiencing severe symptoms, call 1-800-222-1222, the Poison Control Center. It is free, confidential and runs 24 hours a day, even days a week. Food-borne illness is a serious matter that can cause paralysis or even death. The best and the most effective way to prevent falling ill is to be aware of proper hygiene and taking precaution measures, which will protect not only you but everyone around from becoming ill.

Don’t let any food-borne illness prevent you from enjoying the sun and perhaps a picnic with family and friends!

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