It’s been summer – officially – for more than a month and even longer if you consider the school calendar as the true measure of the summer season. This, of course, means you’ve had at least a month to enjoy summer staples such as swimming pools and backyard barbecues. Both of these activities can be dangerous, though, if you’re not careful. Food preparation, in particular, should be monitored closely when you’re gearing up to grill or host a family cookout due to the risk for foodborne illnesses such as salmonella, which has been in the news lately due to a salmonella outbreak across more than two dozen states linked to raw turkey.
“Foodborne illness, or food poisoning, affects one in six Americans each year,” said Mary Kathryn Cockrill from Blount Memorial’s infection control team sharing information from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). “The infection you get from eating foods contaminated with salmonella is known as ‘salmonellosis.’ It typically will develop sometime between six hours and two days after you eat the contaminated food, and, in most cases, people recover anywhere between four days and a full week, usually without any treatment whatsoever. Some cases, though, can be much more serious, requiring medical treatment or even a hospital stay,” she said. ““The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that salmonella causes 23,000 hospitalizations each year nationwide,” she added.
Due to everything from the types of foods we prepare in the summer to the heat itself, salmonella is much more common in the summer season. “Recently, salmonella was found to be associated with pre-cut melons because they can become contaminated during the cutting process,” Cockrill said. “This happens when salmonella bacteria is living on the outside of the melon. When the knife touches it to cut it, the knife becomes contaminated and spreads the bacteria throughout the melon itself. Of course, it’s not just melons. Salmonella contamination can occur in everything from raw meats to vegetables if proper food safety procedures aren’t practiced. Generally speaking, the steps to remember are clean, separate, cook properly and store your foods at the proper temperatures. Clean your hands regularly before and after handling foods, especially raw meats, to prevent cross contamination. Always keep your knives and other utensils clean, and remember to wipe down kitchen surfaces. Wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly before slicing or peeling them, and always use separate cutting boards and utensils for cutting uncooked meats and vegetables. You want to be sure you’re cooking your foods thoroughly, which means 145 degrees for whole meats, 160 degrees for ground meats and 165 degrees for chicken. When it comes to storage, it’s pretty simple – keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot, which is trickier if you’re cooking outdoors. Also, refrigerate perishables within two hours of preparation, and toss out any foods that sit out longer than two hours,” she said. “And, as tasty as it can be, you should avoid eating raw cookie dough due to the uncooked eggs it contains,” she added.
If you do start to feel ill, Cockrill says it’s time to contact your doctor. “If you exhibit symptoms such as diarrhea that lasts more than three days, extended periods of vomiting, fever over 101.5 degrees or any signs of dehydration, it’s definitely time to see a health care professional, as these are the signs of a salmonella infection,” she said. “Young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop a serious infection and require medical attention, which is why it’s important to follow the salmonella safety steps to everyone in the family healthy this summer,” she added.