Make sure your holiday fare is safe to eat
Summer is here. Long afternoons at the beach. Barbecues. Reheated sausages. Stomach cramps. Diarrhoea. Vomiting.
Unfortunately for far too many Kiwis summer often means food poisoning, or gastroenteritis. A staggering 500 of us will be afflicted each day, with higher rates over the summer months. More than half of these cases are caused by food preparation at home, rather than in a commercial setting. So what are the risks and how can you keep your family and guests safe?
The most common bugs that cause food poisoning are salmonella, campylobacter, E coli, shigella, listeria and staphylococcus aureus. These bugs produce toxins that contaminate the food and can make you extremely sick, especially if you are very young, old or vulnerable.
The time between eating the food and developing symptoms varies widely, depending on the bug involved - from three hours or so for a staphylococcal infection, up to several days for salmonella or campylobacter. The symptoms can last from 24 hours, to up to two weeks, and can certainly ruin a long-planned holiday.
Food preparation and storage are really important, and teaching your children basic hygiene in the kitchen is a great first step. The following tips should be followed at all times:
Clean hands - always wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after preparing or handling food.
Chilly bags for shopping - on a sunny day, the inside of your car can reach 40 degrees Celsius - perfect for breeding bacteria. You can keep your meat and seafood at a safe temperature by placing it in a chilly bag with an ice pack until you get it in the fridge at home. This is especially important for meats that may not be cooked before you eat them, such as ham or processed meat.
Store food safely - if you are not going to use food within a couple of days, especially in warm weather, freeze it to use later; don't use food that is past the sell-by date and throw away dips or sauces that have been open for a few days. Your fridge should stay at a temperature of 2C to 4C, and once food is out of the fridge, use a chilly bag or ice pack to keep it cool. Store raw meats and chicken on the lowest shelf in the fridge.
Barbecue safely - defrost all food completely before cooking; ensure any food is cooked right through (a meat thermometer can help with this and will let you know when the centre of your food has reached an adequately high temperature to be cooked). Use separate utensils on the barbecue for raw and cooked meat, and never put the cooked food back on to the plate it arrived on. If you are cooking chicken on the barbecue, especially if it has a bone in it, check that the juices from the centre are completely clear before serving; any redness means the meat is probably not cooked enough and could be risky to eat. If you are barbecuing at night, take food indoors to check it is cooked.
Reheating - if you have to reheat food, it needs to be heated until it is steaming hot throughout, and don't reheat anything more than once. Rice shouldn't be reheated. You are much safer to eat your leftovers cold where possible.
If perishable food has been out of the fridge for more than two hours, throw it away. Bacteria thrive at room temperature and will quickly multiply in these conditions.
Containers - those that have been used for meat, especially poultry, should be cleaned in a hot dishwasher where possible - this will sterilise them much more effectively than washing them in the sink. The same is true of chopping boards. Try to keep boards for meat or poultry separate from boards you use for any other kind of food.
If you are unlucky enough to succumb to food poisoning, treatment is usually conservative, and includes:
Electrolytes (such as dioralyte or pedialyte sachets).
Anti-spasmodics (such as buscopan).
Plain, bland food.
If your symptoms aren't settling, or you fall into one of the following categories, it is really important to seek early medical help to avoid becoming seriously unwell:
Unable to keep down fluids.
Other pre-existing medical conditions, such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes.
The Dominion Post