In the laboratory, scientists grow bacteria cultures in petri dishes containing moist proteins that are gently warmed. In this environment bacteria grow quickly. An environment that resembles the picnic baskets of thousands who will get sick this summer.
Food-borne illnesses happen year round, but during the summer, food that is prepared and then eaten later increases the risk. The source of most food-borne illnesses is salmonella, E. coli, and campylobacter. Various strains of strep and other viral infections can also be transmitted through food.
Once a food is infected, the bacteria will multiply rapidly under the conditions found in a picnic basket. These pathogens can’t be tasted or smelled. So the best way to protect yourself is practicing safe food-handling methods.
When preparing your picnic, always work on a clean surface. Use clean utensils and never go from cutting up one food to cutting up another without washing the knife and the cutting board. Don’t mix raw and cooked foods.
Bacteria grow rampantly between the temperatures of 45 degrees and 140 degrees. So the rule of thumb is to always keep cold food cold (40 degrees or cooler) and hot foods hot (160 degrees or warmer). Surround cold foods with ice and keep hot foods in good thermal bags made especially for transporting hot food.
Use the foods quickly and store any leftovers immediately after serving. When you reheat foods, bring them to a temperature of at least 170 degrees before serving. Don’t let foods sit out at room or air temperature for more than 20 minutes. If food has stayed out at an unsafe temperature, throw it away. Don’t take the chance of eating foods that might make you sick.
Dr. Steven L. Levy is a chiropractor in Woodbury.