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Summer adds risk to contaminate food
Health advice
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Foodborne disease is caused by consuming contaminated foods or beverages and hot weather adds risks of contamination.
There are many disease-causing microbes, or pathogens, that can contaminate food, resulting in over 250 different infections that can cause these uncomfortable  illnesses. Most  of these diseases are infections, caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses and parasites, but other diseases are poisonings, caused by harmful toxins or chemicals that have contaminated the food, such as poisonous mushrooms.
These different diseases have many different symptoms, so there is no one “syndrome” that  indicates a foodborne illness. However, most microbes or toxins enter the body through the gastrointestinal tract, and often cause the first symptoms there. So nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea are common symptoms.  
Many microbes can spread in more than one way, so we cannot always know that a disease is foodborne. The distinction matters because public health authorities need to know how a particular disease is spreading to take the appropriate steps to stop it.  For example, escherichia coli O157:H7 infections can spread through contaminated food, contaminated water, contaminated swimming water and from toddler to toddler at a day care center. Depending on which means of spread caused a case, the measures to stop other cases could range from removing contaminated food from stores, chlorinating a swimming pool or closing a child day care center
The food supply in the United States is the safest in the world, but foodborne illnesses do occur on a regular basis and may even be life-threatening.  Hot weather can turn the food on your table or at a picnic into the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. In addition to bacteria, foodborne illness  may be caused by viruses and parasites.  Seventy-six million cases of food-related  illnesses occur in the United States every year. Many other cases remain undiagnosed because people do not realize their problem is caused by bacteria or other pathogens since their symptoms seem like the flu.  
There are thousands of different types of bacteria present in our environment, but not all of these cause disease in humans. Some forms of bacteria  can even be helpful such as those used beneficially in making cheese and yogurt.  
Food-related illness can produce mild to very serious symptoms with illness occurring from 30 minutes to two weeks after eating “contaminated” food. Symptoms of bacterial illnesses tend to occur  fairly close to ingestion, while symptoms of viral or parasitic illnesses may not appear for several weeks after exposure.  While symptoms usually last only a day or two, some cases can persist a week to 10 days.  People most likely to become sick from foodborne illness are infants and young children, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems.
Specific foods that have been implicated in foodborne illnesses are unpasteurized fruit and vegetable juices and ciders; raw or undercooked eggs or foods containing undercooked eggs; chicken, tuna, potato and macaroni salads; seafood, cream-filled pastries; and fresh produce.
Summer food safety tips:
• Wash your hands often. This will keep you from passing bacteria from one food to another while preparing a meal. Always wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 15 seconds before preparing foods and after handling raw meats.
• Separate raw meat and ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination - where juices from raw meat accidentally touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods. Use separate cutting boards for meat and fruits and vegetables.
• Cook meats, fish and poultry throughout. Use a thermometer to make sure they’ve reached the proper cooked temperature.
• Never put cooked meat on unwashed plates that held raw meats.
• Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Cover hot foods such as meat in foil to retain heat. Cold foods such as potato salad should stay chilled. Promptly refrigerate any food you plan to save for the next day.
• Melons may present risks if not properly prepared. Before cutting a melon, wash the outer surface thoroughly to remove dirt,  even if the melon looks clean. Once a melon is cut, it should be chilled in ice or refrigerated at 45 degrees F or less. Cut melons can be served without refrigeration for a maximum of four hours.
• Keep cold side dishes chilled and out of the sun. Never keep side food items prepared with mayonnaise or those considered to be high in protein out for longer than two hours. Bacteria can multiply in moist foods such as salads and desserts.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
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