Food poisoning prevention made easy
FORT BRAGG, N.C. — The season for barbeques, cook-outs and picnics has officially started.
These fun, summer get-togethers are a wonderful opportunity to spend time and relax with family and friends. They're also a time to be wary and take the appropriate precautions to avoid foodborne illness, commonly referred to as food poisoning.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every six Americans gets sick from consuming contaminated foods or beverages each year. While foodborne illness is a common public health problem, it is also an easily preventable one.
"Everyone always warns you to watch out for the potato salad, but there's a lot more to it than that," said Terresio Pope, a community health nurse at Womack Army Medical Center's Epidemiology and Disease Control Clinic.
She said that the four things to remember in order to help prevent food poisoning are: cook, clean, chill and separate.
When it comes to cooking, temperature is the key. The CDC cautions that is important to cook food to the right temperature and that the only way to know for sure is to use a food thermometer. Judging when food is "done" simply by its color or texture is not always accurate and unsafe.
Clean hands and counters can help prevent the spread of harmful bacteria.
"The rules are the same for picnics and barbecues as they are throughout your daily life," said Hannah Smith, also a community health nurse at the EDC Clinic. "Wash your hands – before you eat and before you prepare food."
Properly chilling food is important, too. Pope said that while most people have coolers and ice on-hand for beverages, they often don't think to have a cooler available to keep foods chilled. She said that foods shouldn't sit out longer than one hour.
The other thing to avoid is cross-contaminating raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs with ready-to-eat foods.
Smith said that food poisoning is more serious than most people may think.
"Food poisoning is often thought of as an inconvenience that will just cause digestive issues for a couple of days," she said. "While that's sometimes the case, it can often be more serious than that. Some foodborne illness can lead to long-term health conditions and even death."
Symptoms of most foodborne illnesses include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea.
If you suspect you may have food poisoning, contact the nurse advice line at 800-TRICARE (874-2273), option 1.
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