Eyes on food-borne illness

Keeping hot things hot, cold things cold and cooking them to the proper temperature will help keep...
Photo illustration by Kera Williams/Standard-Examiner
Story by Jamie Lampros
(Standard-Examiner correspondent)
Tue, Dec 6, 2011
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Want to avoid food poisoning? Focus on temperature and time.

That’s the advice Louis Cooper, director of environmental health for the Weber-Morgan Health Department, has for those who want to keep their food down after dinner. While some things are out of our control, such as the way others prepare food for us, we can be vigilant in our own kitchens, he said.

Keeping hot things hot, cold things cold and cooking them to the proper temperature will help keep nasty bacteria away.

“There are foods that 10 years ago I wouldn’t have flinched if you had kept them out on the counter longer than usual,” Cooper said. “Beans and rice are a good example. But today? I’m going to tell you to keep them at the proper temperature and store them as soon as possible if you don’t want to get deathly ill.”

Each year, roughly 48 million people get sick because of something they ate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those poisoned, nearly 128,000 land in the hospital, and 3,000 die.

People are sickened with a variety of food-borne illnesses that include salmonella, listeria, E. coli 0157, campylobacter, and a new strain of E coli — called 0104 — that was found in raw fenugreek sprouts. The new strain killed 47 people in Germany and France last spring, and sickened thousands more.

In August, millions of pounds of ground turkey were recalled after a dangerous form of salmonella sickened dozens of people, and more recently there was a listeria outbreak from cantaloupe.

In fact, according to the Utah Department of Health’s website, between September 2010 and August 2011 the number of listeria cases reported was higher than expected.

“Usually, listeria is associated with processed meats,” Cooper said. “But anything is possible. What a lot of people don’t realize is that once they get that fruit home, it needs to be washed before it’s cut into.”

Cookie dough no-no

Other sources of food poisoning have included eggs, bean sprouts, spinach, strawberries, apple cider, peanut butter, raw milk, ground beef, chicken, coleslaw, lettuce and sprouts.

“It’s so important to prepare your food properly and cook it to the right temperature,” Cooper said. “If you’re cooking meat you need to make sure you use a meat thermometer and cook it thoroughly.”

Sometimes, just looking to check a meat’s doneness isn’t enough, he said. And if you go to a restaurant and get a hamburger that’s pink in the middle, don’t eat it. Send it back. Not only that, but Cooper advises asking restaurant employees how they check to see if the hamburger is done.

“If they aren’t using a meat thermometer, choose something else off the menu,” he said.

Oh, and want to sneak a taste of that cookie dough before you cook it? Go ahead, but you’re taking a big risk.

“You can have a hairline crack in one of the eggs that isn’t noticeable at all, but bacteria can seep from the outside of the egg,” Cooper said. “It’s really better if you don’t eat the raw cookie dough.”

Don’t just sit there

Cross-contamination is another reason for many sicknesses. For example, some cooks will carry a tray of raw hamburger out to the grill, then use the same tray to carry the cooked hamburger back into the house.

“Or, they will cut up their raw chicken and use the same cutting board to prepare their salad,” Cooper said.

Cooper said it’s OK to prepare a meal and let the food sit out for a bit while you eat and visit, but don’t leave it out for long. The longer it sits there, the more prone it is to bacteria.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If you leave your food out on the counter for more than an hour, you should probably discard it, even if it still looks and smells fine.

“Don’t taste it to see if it’s spoiled,” Cooper said. “If you have any doubt at all, throw it out.”

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