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Cook Safe – Keep Food Borne Illness Away this Summer

Jun 06, 2012
While we should always take weather predictions with a grain of salt, it looks like it will be a long, hot summer here in Simcoe Muskoka. We’ll want to take advantage of this warm weather and enjoy barbequing, camping and picnicking. But, we need to pay specific attention to how we prepare, pack, and cook our favourite foods.

While we should always take weather predictions with a grain of salt, it looks like it will be a long, hot summer here in Simcoe Muskoka. We’ll want to take advantage of this warm weather and enjoy barbequing, camping and picnicking. But, we need to pay specific attention to how we prepare, pack, and cook our favourite foods.  If we don’t, it’s not a matter of predicting the chances of food borne illness – it’s a matter of fact.

Food poisoning can easily occur in the summer because certain bacteria thrive in both warm weather and raw, protein-rich foods. This “perfect storm” provides an ideal setting for bacteria to grow without the usual warning signs of bad odour, taste and visible changes to alert unsuspecting diners.  The onset of gastrointestinal symptoms, like upset stomachs and bathroom emergencies, may be inconvenient and minor in nature, but sometimes the results are significantly more serious: 

  • Hamburgers are made with ground meat that could contain E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria, which can cause abdominal cramps and watery, bloody diarrhea.
  • Raw chicken can be home to Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria, which can cause cramps, diarrhea, fever, headache and nausea.  

Unfortunately, symptoms can be more severe in children, the elderly and those who are already sick. 

A simple rule we should all live by is to assume all foods – especially raw foods – can contain bacteria, parasites or viruses.  A few simple protective measures can substantially reduce our risk of acquiring food borne illnesses: 

Prep

  • Frequently wash hands with warm soapy water before and after handling raw meats.
  • Keep a clean work area and clean cutting boards frequently.
  • Do not allow raw meat to touch other food.   

Pack

  • Before packing a cooler, wash it out and rinse soap away with cold water to pre-chill the cooler.
  • Fill the cooler with ice or frozen drinks to help keep foods cold – these cubes are not for drinks.
  • Maintain the ice level or freezer packs in each cooler throughout your trip.
  • Store raw meats in a separate cooler away from foods like fruit, cheese and lettuce.

Cook

  • Equipment (e.g. basting brushes, tongs) used on uncooked meat should not touch food that is ready to eat. Bacteria from uncooked meat can contaminate your meal.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check that:
    • Burgers are cooked in the center to 71C (160F).
    • Chicken pieces reach 74C (165F).
    • Whole chickens reach 85C (185F).
  • These meats should not be pink in the middle and juices should run clear.
  • Put cooked foods on a clean plate––never back on a plate that held uncooked meat.
  • Chill leftovers promptly.

So whether you’re at a campground, the cottage, a beach or a picnic, putting some thought into your meal planning and preparation will help keep everyone healthy. For more tips on food safety, visit simcoemuskokahealth.org or call Your Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and speak with a public health inspector. 

-30- 

 Dr. Pfaff is one of the associate medical officers of health for Simcoe Muskoka.


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