Food borne illnesses increase during the summer, and the reason why is twofold — bacteria multiply faster in warmer temperatures and preparing food outdoors makes safe food handling difficult, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Bayhealth physician Rebecca McIlroy offered advice and tips to avoid inviting bacteria to the next cookout.
Food poisoning occurs when a person eats contaminated food with infectious organisms including bacteria, viruses or parasites.
“The organisms themselves or sometimes the toxins they produce contaminate the food,” McIlroy said. “This can occur during processing and production, which often leads to mass food recalls, but can also occur at home when food is incorrectly cooked or handled.”
To prevent food poisoning at home, McIlroy said to wash hands, utensils and food surfaces often, especially before and after handling raw food. Throw out marinades and sauces that have touched raw meat and place cooked foods on a clean plate.
Foods should be cooked to the appropriate temperatures. McIlroy suggested using a food thermometer to ensure raw meats are fully cooked.
“Cooking food to a temperature at or above 160 degrees Fahrenheit is sufficient to kill most microbes,” she said. “Defrost foods in the refrigerator or microwave instead of at room temperature and refrigerate any perishable items sitting outside in the heat within one hour.”
Symptoms of food poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain or cramps and fever. McIlroy explained that symptoms start within a few hours of eating the contaminated food, but in the instance of parasite infections, the symptoms may not occur for several days to weeks.
Antibiotics are rarely needed to treat food poisoning. McIlroy suggests drinking smaller amounts of fluid like water, electrolyte drinks or clear soda every 30 to 60 minutes as it will help keep a person hydrated.
“Avoid anti-diarrhea medication because they can prolong the illness by keeping the infection inside the body,” she said. “One can advance their diet to solids once the vomiting has subsided, but stick to bland foods to reduce digestive stress and recurrence of symptoms.”
McIlroy said to seek medical advice if unable to keep any liquids down or experiencing signs and symptoms of dehydration including excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, or dizziness. Also medical attention is necessary if diarrhea lasts longer than three days; vomit or stool is bloody; abdominal pain is severe; or if neurological symptoms like change in mental status, blurred vision or tingling occur.