Beware of food poisoning on warm summer days

By Carol Higgins Taylor
    Summer is one of the most popular times of year to get together with family and friends.
    Warm temperatures, long days, fresh produce and hosting a cookout are things the season is made for.
    But if you’re not careful, you may have some “uninvited guests” at your next gathering.
    Everything has bacteria; so being ever mindful can help prevent food poisoning.
    While most people understand the danger of placing cooked meat on a platter that previously held raw meat, some people think nothing of cross-contamination through unwashed hands or reused cooking utensils.

    Plain and simple, it is never a good idea to leave food, cooked or not, unrefrigerated. The exact time varies depending on who you ask. But to be safe on the safest side, shoot for no more than a half-hour for meat or salads.
    As hot food cools or cold food warms, any bacteria that was not completely killed during cooking will have a prime breeding ground. Warm and moist places are bacterium paradise.
    Another instance where problems can occur is after grocery shopping.
    When people grocery shop and buy milk, meat, cheese or frozen foods, they will often shop the perimeters of the store first because that’s how it’s set up. But that leaves the food unprotected for however long the person is in the store.
    And if they stop along the way home to get gas, or run an errand, the food will clearly be in the danger zone.
    A cooler with ice is a great idea; but you can buy “cooler bags” that are like the fabric grocery bags but are insulated. When checking out at the store, have the bagger put your cold items directly in there.
    It’s a great investment. It’s the safest place to put perishables; and especially important if you live more than 15 minutes from the store.
    And then there are the baked bean suppers and spaghetti feeds. While a wonderful way to support the cause of your choice, it may not always be the safest. I’ve done my share of scoping out a buffet wondering how long the food had been sitting there.
    Just remember, if it is supposed to be hot and isn’t — don’t eat it.
    If it is supposed to be cold and isn’t — don’t eat it.
    And if you don’t know where it came from, it’s best to bypass it altogether.
    If all of this sounds a little paranoid, it’s not. While a younger person with a slight case of food poisoning may feel sick or have cramps for a couple of hours, an elderly person could need hospitalization or worse. Seniors can get dehydrated fairly quickly.
    Another important safety tip is to wash produce very carefully. My own mother scoffs at the idea as she regales me with stories of eating vegetables right out of the garden.
    You gardeners are exempt from the tip; but if you’re buying produce from some source unknown, you have no idea about the growing conditions or pesticides.
    Food goes through a lot more processing than in the past. Cantaloupe may come from Chile and grapes from Argentina. Who knows what happened to it while it traveled to your table?
    And one last thing to remember: Something doesn’t have to smell bad to actually be bad. And clean is not the same thing as sanitized.
    But most of all remember to keep hot food hot, cold food cold, wash your hands a lot and don’t touch your food too much.
    Protect yourself and remember to have fun. Just don’t let the bacteria win.
(Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. Email Higgins Taylor at 4chtaylor@gmail.com)

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