News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

The Canyon Gardener: It’s outdoor eating season – tips for keeping meals safe

The weather is nice, and it is time for barbeques, picnics and camping. We want to be confident our food is safe and won’t cause illness. Sometimes the food, prepared with care, can still make us sick from foodborne illness if left out in temperatures comfortable for us. Those temperatures are also comfortable for pathogens to thrive. 

We know that microbes exist in even the cleanest kitchens, just waiting for a place to grow and multiply. Noroviruses are passed from human feces on the hands of food preparers. Parasite Toxoplasma gondii thrives on cats and other animals, including those raised for meat. Gondii, Giardis and E. coli parasites are present in gardens visited by animals and can be passed from human to human. 

Surveys show that one-fourth to three-fourths of meat and poultry (including eggs) sold in retail stores may have been contaminated with pathogens like Salmonella and Campylobacter that live in animal intestines. These pathogens can be killed by temperatures above 160 degrees F. Field-grown vegetables and berries should be washed to remove natural contamination.

Basic food safety guidelines to follow at home can keep family and guests safe. 

Practice good hygiene by washing hands and fresh produce under running water at least 20 seconds, especially after using the toilet, gardening or petting animals. 

Clean food preparation surfaces with hot soapy water and a clean cloth or paper towels before and after preparation of each food. 

Cook foods adequately to kill any pathogens present, especially if serving to pregnant, immunocompromised, very young or elderly persons. 

Avoid cross-contamination by keeping cooked and ready-to-eat foods separate from raw meat or poultry. 

Store all perishable foods at or below 40 degrees F with insulated containers or ice packs. Reheat leftovers and cook meats to at least 165oF.  Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot! 

It only takes a couple of hours at room temperature for harmful bacteria, viruses or parasites to create toxins in lukewarm food, including delicious stuffing and desserts made with eggs. 

If you travelled three hours with the potato salad, it may already be growing. Avoid foods and water from unsafe sources by bringing your own. 

It may take days for disease-causing microorganisms to incubate and grow in our bodies before symptoms appear, so it is easy to blame the wrong food. You might blame it on what you ate last when you’re sick and up half the night with headache, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea. Most healthy people recover from the symptoms in about three days. 

The CDC estimates there are 76 million cases of foodborne illness each year resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. 

Outbreaks of foodborne illness are investigated by state and local health departments, with help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s up to home cooks to prepare and serve the food safely. 

If you suspect that you have foodborne illness, take these steps: 

• Seek medical treatment. 

• If a portion of the questionable food is available put it in a container labeled “Danger” and freeze it. 

• Write down the type of food eaten, date and time consumed, and when the symptoms occurred. 

• Save packaging from the food preparation in case it needs to be traced. 

• Call the county health department is you suspect purchased foods made you sick.

USDA  and FDA enforce at least 30 laws related to food safety, ensuring that all domestic and imported food products for human consumption are safe, nutritious, wholesome and accurately labeled. 

Federal and state inspectors focus on microbial food safety hazards and good agricultural and management practices for growing, harvesting, washing, sorting packing and transporting of most fruits, vegetables, meats and poultry. 

Oregon Department of Agriculture monitors the safety of foods sold in grocery stores, convenience stores, bakeries, meat markets and food processing plants.  

All that said – enjoy your summer-weather meals. Take care of yourself and others, and stay safe at the picnic table.

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