Along with warmer weather and outdoor cooking, summer always brings more cases of food-borne illness, a.k.a. food poisoning. That’s because food poisoning is usually caused by eating food contaminated by infectious microbes, which grow best in warm, humid environments and therefore flourish in the summertime.
These infectious microbes can contaminate your food at any point during growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping or preparing. Cross-contamination — the transfer of microbes from one surface to another — is particularly common, even in your own kitchen. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent food poisoning from being the uninvited guest at your next summer picnic or party.
How to Prevent Food Poisoning
- Prevent cross-contamination by washing your hands, utensils and surfaces
often, and by keeping raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods.
- Stop the growth of microbes by keeping foods refrigerated or frozen;
remembering that perishable foods left out on a hot day will spoil within one hour.
- Destroy microbes by cooking foods thoroughly, although cooking cannot
rescue food that has been left out of refrigeration for too long. Consider using
a thermometer to be sure that your food reaches a safe internal temperature (usually
145-160 °F). If you’re grilling outdoors, don’t partially cook your meat ahead
of time, as this allows surviving bacteria to multiply to the point that subsequent
cooking cannot destroy them.
- Pregnant women and their fetuses, young children, elderly adults, and people
with weakened immune systems need to take extra precautions by avoiding all raw,
rare or undercooked food, unpasteurized juice and milk, and soft cheeses.
How to Treat It
If you do develop symptoms of food poisoning (e.g., nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea,
abdominal pain, fever, loss of appetite and fatigue) you’ll probably get better
on your own within 48 hours. You simply need to get plenty of rest and stay hydrated
by taking small, frequent sips of water, broth, soda or sports drinks like Gatorade.
Try to drink at least two liters per day, then gradually ease back into eating,
starting with bland foods like bananas, rice, apples and toast. Avoid anti-diarrheal
medications like Imodium or Lomotil, because these may slow the elimination of bacteria
or toxins from your system and can worsen your condition.
Unfortunately, some cases of food poisoning are more severe and might require antibiotics
or even hospitalization for hydration through an IV line. You should seek prompt
medical attention if you are pregnant, or if you experience any of the following:
- Frequent episodes of vomiting for more than two days
- Vomiting blood
- Inability to keep any liquids down for 24 hours
- Severe diarrhea for more than three days
- Blood in your bowel movements
- Extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping
- An oral temperature higher than 101.5 F
- Symptoms of dehydration — excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination,
severe weakness, dizziness or lightheadedness