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Food Safety for the Entire Family

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Is Food the Culprit?
Most types of food poisoning manifest themselves in the intestinal tract and are often characterized by vomiting and diarrhea. The sudden onset of intestinal problems without a cold, runny nose, cough, or body aches and pains should be enough to distinguish foodborne illness from the flu. In fact, it typically takes a day or so to develop the flu symptoms of fatigue and all-over achiness; this general malaise is usually accompanied by nasal or chest congestion, runny nose, cough, and fever. Depending on the germ, the symptoms of foodborne illness can be apparent in as little as thirty minutes.

When trying to determine if food is to blame when your child falls ill, it may be tough to get to the bottom of the situation, however. Youngsters don't always have the words to describe their discomfort or tell you what is going on in their bodies. It's even worse when trying to figure out how your infant is faring. Don't wait for a definitive answer. Call your doctor to discuss your child's situation. Make haste when children have any amount of bloody diarrhea, because it's a sign that your child may have consumed the potentially deadly Escherichia coli (E. Coli) 0157:H7. The simultaneous symptoms of stiff neck, headache, and fever should be reported immediately, too. If your youngster vomits or has diarrhea two or more times daily for twenty-four to forty-eight hours, he may need to see his pediatrician, given his risk for dehydration and its complications.

Curb Cross-Contamination
You may be in for trouble when juices from raw meat, poultry, or seafood, or germs from unclean objects such as utensils, touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods. Separate raw meats and ready-to-eat foods such as salad greens. Make it easier to avoid cross-contamination by using separate plates for holding raw meat, poultry, and seafood and another for the cooked versions. When possible, designate separate cutting boards for raw animal products and for ready-to-eat foods such as bread and salad greens. Use different-colored boards so that you won't mix them up. Discard old cutting boards worn with cracks, crevices, and excessive knife scars because germs can thrive there.

Turn Up the Heat
Cooking destroys harmful bacteria, but only when it's done right. Animal products are particularly prone to foodborne illness, but applying the right temperature typically fends off troublesome germs. With the exception of eggs and fish, experts say that you cannot tell whether animal products are properly cooked by their appearance. Invest in a meat thermometer to be sure. Here's what to strive for, temperature-wise.

  • Whole poultry: 180°F
  • Poultry breast and well-done meats: 170°F
  • Stuffing, ground poultry, reheated leftovers: 165°F
  • Medium meats, pork, and ground meats such as beef: 145°F
  • Medium-rare beefsteaks, roasts, veal, lamb: 145°F
  • Egg dishes: 160°F. Cook egg yolks and whites until both are firm.
  • Fish: Cook until the flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

Cool It
With all the outdoor partying going on, it's no surprise that a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites the summer months as a time when foodborne illness caused by bacteria is at its peak. It doesn't have to be that way. To avoid getting sick from food, never leave it sitting out for more than two hours at room temperature, which is about 70°F. When the mercury climbs higher, food quality deteriorates even faster. That's why you should cool food after just one hour on the table. It's one thing to rely on your refrigerator and freezer for cooling, but you must make sure your refrigerator thermometer registers 40°F or below and that your freezer operates at 0°F or lower. If the units are any warmer than that, bacterial growth can occur. Also, don't pack your refrigerator or freezer with too much food. Cold air needs room to circulate in order to effectively squelch germ reproduction.

Mind the Marinating
When marinating meat, seafood, or poultry, use a covered plastic container and place it in the refrigerator. Marinade ingredients are acidic and cause a chemical reaction with some metallic containers that results in the metal leaching into your food. Never reuse marinade on raw animal foods such as meat, poultry, and seafood unless it's been boiled first to destroy any germs.

Defrosting Dilemma
It's so convenient to take out a package of poultry or beef and leave it to thaw on the kitchen countertop. But it is fraught with risk. As the food warms up at room temperature, germs begin to multiply. And although you cook it thoroughly, you may not be able to kill enough of the microorganisms to prevent foodborne illness. Here's what to do instead. Thaw food in the refrigerator; wrapped in plastic, sitting in cold water in a pan (change water frequently and refrigerate as soon as food is thawed); or in the microwave oven. Always marinate foods in the refrigerator, too.

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Copyright © 2002 by Elizabeth M. Ward. Excerpted from Healthy Foods, Healthy Kids with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.

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