HCN News & Notes

As Cookout Season Heats Up, So Does the Risk of Foodborne Illness

SPRINGFIELDWith Memorial Day weekend around the corner, cookout season is heating up across Massachusetts. However, rising temperatures in the late spring and summer can cause items like meat and mayonnaise to spoil quickly, resulting in food poisoning, such as infection with bacteria such as Staphylococcus (‘staph’), E. coli, and salmonella. In addition, cases of food poisoning tend to increase during the summer months when people are eating more raw fruits and vegetables and may not be vigilant about taking proper precautions with food handling and preparation.

“When dining outdoors, keep food out of direct sunlight,” advised Dr. Andrew Koslow, Massachusetts medical director of American Family Care (AFC). “Even in the shade, foods with a high potential for spoilage, such as salads containing mayonnaise, should be kept on ice, with leftovers kept cool or disposed of quickly after eating.”

Foods most affected by the heat are those that contain dairy — such as salads made with mayonnaise or dips containing sour cream or cream cheese — as well as beef, pork, chicken, and seafood.

With regard to food poisoning prevention, Koslow advises:

• Practice good hygiene. Wash hands, utensils, and food-preparation surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after preparing or eating food.

• Rinse all raw produce thoroughly, and use a clean brush to scrub produce that has a firm surface.

• Keep raw foods, especially meats, separate from other foods, and wash utensils and work surfaces such as cutting boards when switching from one to the other, so as not to cross-contaminate.

Symptoms of food poisoning can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. “With mild cases, it’s important to stay hydrated,” Koslow said. “More severe cases, including those with fever, severe abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, or symptoms of dehydration, require medical attention.”

The onset of symptoms depends on the type of virus or bacteria involved. Symptoms from staph may begin in under an hour, while other infections may take days to develop. Most patients recover within a week.

“If symptoms don’t improve within a day or two or worsen, or other symptoms, such as fever, severe pain, extreme fatigue, or decreased urination, occur, consult a healthcare provider,” Koslow said.

Treatment varies by the type and severity of the symptoms. If needed, E. coli and other pathogens can be diagnosed by testing a stool sample.

“For most mild cases, rest and fluids to prevent dehydration are all that is necessary,” Koslow said. “Antibiotics are not recommended in most cases. Anti-diarrheal medications should only be used on the advice of a healthcare provider, as they can slow down the process of eliminating toxins and bacteria. Some patients, such as those who develop kidney failure or who already have certain medical problems that interfere with fighting infections, may require hospitalization and more intensive interventions.”