Labor Day weekend is upon us. This year has gone quickly and most of us will linger at the park, the pool, the lake or in the back yard, grilling and entertaining friends and family, hoping to keep summer fun going a little longer before the leaves begin to turn. Each year during this long weekend, local emergency rooms at Duke, Rex, WakeMed and Durham Regional hospitals, to name a few, have their share of people coming in, suffering the unpleasant and sometimes dangerous results of food poisoning. Women who are pregnant or have an auto-immune disease such as diabetes, are particularly prone to these infections, so care needs to be taken with food preparation, as well as food storage, to avoid this problem.
Of the many different types of food borne illnesses; listeria, campylobacter, salmonella, botulism and shigella are among the most prevalent. There are many culprits that can cause these infections; undercooking, cross contamination of preparation surfaces and utensils, under-refrigeration and the use of unpasteurized food products, such as milk and soft cheeses. Most have similar symptoms, flu like and unpleasant, including, intestinal pain and diarrhea, vomiting and a feeling of general malaise can accompany them. A visit to the doctor can take care of the infection most of the time, but, if left unchecked, some of them can cause serious physical complications. Some can become deadly.
To keep yourself and your loved ones safe, here are some rules to follow and to pass on to your friends and children alike. First and foremost, wash your hands before prepping and cooking anything. Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before cooking or consuming them. The highest risk foods for food borne infections during grilling season are raw shellfish and ground beef, so cook your burgers, shrimp and lobster tails thoroughly. A rare burger may be juicy and delicious, but medium is much safer and should be adhered to. Above all, when preparing uncooked meats and poultry for the grill, the stovetop or the oven, wash your hands again and use clean utensils and work surfaces for additional food preparation. Finally, if your recipes for potato salad or other dishes require the use of mayonnaise, keep them ice cold, either in the refrigerator or on ice in a well insulated cooler. Some have suggested that the vinegar in mayonnaise dressings goes a long way in preventing a bacteria infection….don’t believe it! I speak from experience! Serve your dressed foods immediately, refrigerate promptly and use a two hour maximum window for use of these foods if not kept cold.
With a few simple precautions, you can avoid food borne illness forever. Here’s wishing you a wonderful, delicious and happy labor Day holiday.