Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Defenses Against Summer Food Poisoning

Anyone who’s ever been struck by food poisoning does not soon forget it. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 76 million cases of food-borne disease occur annually in the United States, though this number could be much higher due to underreporting.

“Raw or undercooked meat, fish and produce are the most common culprits of food poisoning, however, even canned or packaged foods can have bacteria present and need thorough cooking first,” says Patricia Raymond, M.D., noted board-certified gastroenterologist, author and assistant professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School. “Cases vary in severity and usually last for two to four days, but they can be the longest days of your life when you feel this badly.”

Despite how scary it seems to millions – making national news reports with every outbreak – Dr. Raymond says there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your family against food poisoning this summer:

At Home Food Prep:
• Don’t Guess about Meat: Invest in a good meat thermometer and make sure all meat is heated to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit at its thickest point. Cook ground meat until no pink shows in the center.
• Keep it Cold: Bacteria grow fastest in warm temperatures, so refrigerate leftovers if they aren’t going to be eaten within two or three hours. When barbequing, leave meat and produce in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook, especially in the summer.
• Wash...and Wash Again: Rinse all produce under running water before consumption, even if you purchase one of the bags of veggies marked “pre-washed.”
• Change Tools: Don’t use the same cooking tools to prepare meat and produce –
bacteria from the raw meat can be transferred to the fruits and vegetables on knives, cutting boards and other cooking tools.
• Wash Your Hands: Scrub your hands with soap and warm water before preparing or eating food. If you have children, teach them the importance of washing their hands before eating and after using the bathroom. Infectious bacteria can remain in the stool for up to two weeks after symptoms end, so vigilance in hand washing is necessary to prevent food poisoning from spreading if one family member has it.

On Vacation:
• What Makes You Sick on the Road?: Traveler’s diarrhea affects between 20 and 50 percent of international travelers (an estimated 10 million people) annually, according to the CDC, and a new survey for Florastor® probiotic finds that 60% of adults have experienced this problem, even while traveling in the United States. Most, if not all, cases of traveler’s diarrhea are a result of food poisoning.
• Watch What You Eat: While traveling, avoid consuming tap water and food from street vendors, and regardless of how clean an establishment looks.
• Be Aware of “Hot Spots”: Check out the CDC Web site to see if your travel destination is an area that is high-risk for conditions like “traveler’s diarrhea.”

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