WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – For many of us the warm-weather months are a time to kick back, relax and take it easy. Maybe so, but it is also a time to be diligent and take precautions to stay healthy. The arrival of warm weather means cook-outs and that can lead to an increased risk of food poisoning. Every year there are approximately 76 million cases of food poisoning in the U.S., most of which go unreported because they are mild in nature and recovery happens quickly.
Ellen Woods, Program Director for the Vitality Initiative at Phelps Memorial Hospital Center, says that seniors, children and immuno-compromised people are at higher risk for contracting food poisoning.
According to Woods, the most common type of food poisoning comes from bacterial contamination. Bacteria can cause food poisoning in one of two ways. Upon entering the body, the bacteria can attack the gastrointestinal tract, causing inflammation and absorption difficulties that lead to diarrhea. The other way occurs when the bacteria produces chemicals (toxins) in food which are poisonous to the gastrointestinal tract. In addition to the usual symptoms of nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea, some bacteria (e-coli) can also lead to kidney failure.
The symptoms of food poisoning can occur suddenly or develop over a period of days. Aside from gastrointestinal problems, it can also cause fever, chills, bloody stools, dehydration, kidney failure, nervous system damage and even death in severe cases or if the person has a compromised immune system.
Woods says that careful hand-washing is important in prevention of food poisoning. Rub your hands together vigorously with soap and running water for a minimum of 20 seconds, being sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Rinse your hands under running water and then dry them on a clean towel or let them air dry. Hands should be washed at the following times:
Before, during, and after preparing food
Before eating food
After using the toilet
Before and after caring for someone who is sick
After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
After touching an animal or animal waste
After touching garbage
Before and after treating a cut or wound
According to Woods, it is also critical to handle, cook and store foods safely to prevent illness from food poisoning. Key tips to reducing your risk of food poisoning include:
- When shopping, buy cold foods last and unpack them first.
- Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods.
- Keep your refrigerator at 40° Fahrenheit (F) and your freezer at 0°F.
- Cook or freeze poultry, fish and meats within two days.
- Sanitize cutting boards with one teaspoon chlorine bleach in one quart of water.
- Wash hands before and after handling raw meat and poultry.
- Thaw meat or poultry either in the refrigerator, in a leak-proof plastic bag in cold tap water or in the microwave.
- Cook beef, veal, lamb, roasts and chops to 145°F.
- Cook fresh pork and ground meats to 160°F.
- Cook ground poultry to 165°F and whole poultry to 170 degrees F (breast) to 180°F (thigh).
- Never leave food out for more than two hours (one hour in weather over 90°F).
- Use leftovers within four days.
For more information about programs and services at Phelps Hospital, go to www.phelpshospital.org .
Phelps Memorial Hospital Center, part of the North Shore-LIJ Health System, is a full-service 238-bed acute care community hospital located in Sleepy Hollow, NY. With more than 1,700 employees and 500 medical staff members representing 60 medical specialties, Phelps offers one of the broadest ranges of community hospital services in Westchester County. Patients benefit from distinguished physicians, many of whom are pioneers in their field, offering the most advanced procedures using the latest technology. www.phelpshospital.org . Phelps' multispecialty medical group, Phelps Medical Associates, has nearly 20 practices located on the hospital campus and in the surrounding communities. www.phelpsmedicalassociates.org .