Thousands of Iowans will gather for picnics, cookouts, and family get-togethers this Memorial Day weekend. The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) cautions that some of those Iowans will become ill in the following week or two, thanks to a food-borne illness. A food-borne illness is any illness caused by eating contaminated food or water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year, 76 million Americans get sick, more than 300,000 are taken to the hospital, and 5,000 people die from food-borne illnesses.
While some food-borne illnesses can be deadly, most that occur in Iowa don’t last long (one to three days), and go away on their own. Most of the things that cause food-borne illnesses affect the digestive tract and symptoms generally include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
Especially during warmer weather, food safety begins at the grocery store. “When shopping, buy cold foods like meat, poultry and dairy products last, right before checkout,” said IDPH Medical Director, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk. “Plan to drive directly home from the grocery store so the food doesn’t sit in a hot car any longer than necessary. You may also want to take a cooler with ice or insulated grocery bags to transport perishables home - especially if your drive home is more than half an hour.” Once home, place cold foods like meat, poultry and dairy products in the refrigerator right away.
To make sure you, your family, and friends have a healthy holiday, remember the following tips:
- Cook all meats thoroughly, especially ground meats like hamburgers and sausages (like bratwursts). Use a meat thermometer to ensure the middle of the meat has reached a temperature that will kill the organisms that can make us sick. Cook chicken to 165 F, ground meats like hamburger to 160 F, and whole meats like steaks or pork chops to 145 F.
- Marinate foods in the refrigerator - not on the kitchen counter or outdoors. In addition, if you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce on the cooked food, set aside a portion before adding the raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Don’t reuse marinade, as this can re-contaminate the food.
- Cook thoroughly and immediately after ‘partial cooking.’ If you partially cook food in your kitchen to reduce grilling time, do so immediately before the food goes on the hot grill.
- Keep cold food cold and hot food hot. Whether in your car or on the picnic table, illness-causing bacteria can grow in many foods within two hours and during warmer weather, that time is cut down to within one hour.
- Don't reuse platters or utensils. Using the same platter or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood allows bacteria from the raw food’s juices to spread to the cooked food. Instead, have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side to serve your food.
- Have a way to wash your hands prior to eating. For example, if picnicking, bring soap and water or hand wipes so everyone can clean their hands before they eat.
For more information on food safety, visit http://idph.iowa.gov/cade/foodborne-illness.