Planning an outdoor party, barbecue, or a picnic? Maybe you attended one yesterday. Each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million Americans get foodborne illnesses, 120,000 end up in the hospital, and 3,000 die. Joan Raymond wants us to have fun without bacteria, viruses, parasites, and toxins having a “party in our intestines” and making us sick. While different foodborne infections can hit their victims at different times (Raymond says, “Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) will make you sick in about one to six hours. Noroviruses will hit you in about 12 to 48 hours. E. coli O157:H7…can take one to eight days to hit”), symptoms most people can expect include abdominal pain and cramping, nausea and vomiting, and diarrhea. Raymond dispels some myths about food poisoning, which affects one in six of us every year:

It’s hot (or cold) enough

Probably not. That’s because many of us blow off the so-called “danger zone,” a time when foods set out the welcome sign for bacteria, explained registered dietitian Tamara Duker Freuman. The danger zone is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Foods should never be left in the danger zone for more than two hours, or one hour if the outdoor temperature is about 90 degrees Fahrenheit…

…“Foods can get in that danger zone quickly,” she said. “The rule is if in doubt, throw it out.”

Fruits with rinds are always safe

Nope. And even injecting your watermelon with vodka isn’t going to make it safer. That’s because the most serious potential problem, listeria, could be right on the rind, not in the flesh of the fruit. An estimated 1,600 people get slammed each year and 260 die. Watermelons, honeydew and cantaloupes can harbor listeria bacteria, but actually any fruit can be risky, said Dr. Yanina Purim, medical director of the emergency department at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

“It’s always smart to wash the fruit with an antibacterial product, and even if you peel it, wash it first,” she said.

It’s the mayo’s fault

No, it isn’t. So stop dissing the mayonnaise. The creamy spread may actually ward off some pathogens because of its high acid content. (We’re talking about commercial mayo, not the stuff you whipped up at home with no quality control and unpasteurized eggs.)

But mix the mayo with potatoes for a yummy potato salad and what you’ve created is a potential cross-contamination. If you do get sick, the bug you may get is Staph aureus, said infectious disease specialist Dr. Keith Armitage, professor of medicine at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. Risks rise if your salad was prepared by someone who has a staph skin infection, or if it was stored at room temperature for too long. Generally this type of food poisoning causes vomiting, diarrhea and cramping that come on quickly, but only last about a day or two.


Most cases of foodborne illnesses are self-limited — they last a short time, from a few hours to a day or two, before resolving on their own without any specific treatment. Infants and children, the elderly, and those who have underlying health conditions are at greater risk for serious infections. Severe abdominal pain accompanied by fever and vomiting are symptoms that merit an urgent phone call to your doctor’s office or a visit to the emergency room. Other warning signs include worst-ever abdominal pain, blood in the stool, vomiting that doesn’t stop after a few hours of stomach rest, and severe diarrhea that persists more than 2-3 days.

The CDC has a few suggestions for keeping summer picnics safe:

Cook — Cook to the right temperature

— Use a food thermometer [to make sure food is cooked through].

— Keep food hot after cooking (at 140 ˚F or above).

— Microwave food thoroughly (to 165 ˚F).

Clean — Wash hands and surfaces often.

— Wash hands the right way—for 20 seconds with plain soap and running water.

— Wash surfaces and utensils after each use.

— Wash fruits and veggies—but not meat, poultry, or eggs!

Chill — Refrigerate promptly.

— Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours.

— Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter.

— Know when to throw food out.

Separate — Don’t cross-contaminate.

— Use separate cutting boards and plates for produce and for meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.

— Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods at the grocery.

— Keep meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods in the fridge.


So have a good time this summer. Just be careful out there.


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