Category Archives: E. coli

Pollution halts Vaughn Bay shellfish harvest: 14 other areas threatened

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Pollution to close shellfish harvest in one area; 14 others listed as threatened
Fecal bacteria levels force new restrictions to protect shellfish consumers

From the Washington State Department of health:

Alert Icon with Exclamation Point!OLYMPIA — The state Department of Health has closed harvesting in part of Vaughn Bay in Pierce County due to high levels of fecal bacteria. Health officials also identified 14 more of Washington’s 101 commercial shellfish growing areas that could be closed in the future if fecal pollution continues to get worse.

“The good news is that the pollution problems in almost all these areas can be found and fixed,” said Bob Woolrich, Growing Area section manager. “There have been many successful pollution correction projects using partnerships with local and state agencies, Tribes, and others.”

The agency shellfish program evaluates the state’s shellfish growing areas every year to see if water quality is approaching unsafe limits. If so, areas are listed as “threatened” with closure.

Shellfish harvesting areas threatened with closure include:

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Keep germs off the guest list at holiday meals

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Keep all your guests healthy by following these food safety tips from the Snohomish Health District.

Proper planning.

Make sure your kitchen has everything you need for safe food handling, including two cutting boards (one for raw meats and seafood and the other for ready-to-eat foods), a food thermometer, shallow containers for cooling and storage, paper towels and soap.

Store foods in the refrigerator at 41°F or below or in the freezer at 0°F or below. Check the temperature of both the refrigerator and freezer with a refrigerator thermometer.

Safe shopping. 

At the grocery store, bag raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods like fruit, vegetables and bread. Don’t buy bruised or damaged produce, or canned goods that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusted, as these may become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Buy cold foods last and bring foods directly home from the store.

Always refrigerate perishable foods, such as raw meat or poultry, within two hours. Thaw frozen turkey in the refrigerator or under cold-running water. Never defrost the turkey at room temperature.

Working in the kitchen. 

Got extra helpers in the kitchen? Make sure everyone washes their hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food, visiting the restroom, or changing a baby’s diapers. Keep all work surfaces sanitized, too. Spray or wipe on a solution of 1 tsp of unscented bleach per gallon of cold water.

When baking holiday treats, remember that no one should eat raw cookie dough or brownie batter containing raw eggs. Make eggnog with pasteurized eggs and pasteurized milk, or simply buy it ready-made with those ingredients.

Adding a nip of brandy or whiskey will not kill the germs. When making homemade eggnog, be sure to cook the mixture to 165°F, then refrigerate.

Cook. 

Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the

harmful bacteria that cause illness. Cook your turkey to a minimum of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer, including the stuffing.

The healthiest method is to prepare and cook the stuffing separately – outside the bird. Test the bird’s temp in the thickest part of the thigh, the breast, and the inside. Don’t let the tip of the thermometer rest against bone.

Potluck contributions. 

Remember to keep hot foods hot (135°F or higher) and cold foods cold (41°F or below). To help keep foods hot wrap dishes in foil, cover them in heavy towels, or put them in insulated containers designed to keep food hot.

For cold foods, put them in a cooler with ice or freezer packs, or use an insulated container with a cold pack so they remain at 41°F or lower, especially if traveling for more than half an hour.

Buffet, anyone? 

If you set up food in a buffet line, take care to put spoons in each dish for self-service, and assist children in filling their plates. No fingers allowed!

Wrap it up! 

Throw away all perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs and casseroles, left at room temperature longer than two hours. Refrigerate or freeze other leftovers in shallow, air-tight containers and label with the date it was prepared. Reheat leftovers to 165°F.

Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 41°F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of an at-home food-borne illness.

Eat cooked turkey and stuffing within 3-4 days and gravy in 1-2 days. Cooked turkey keeps up to 4 months in the freezer. Reheat leftovers to 165°F as measured with a food thermometer, and bring gravy and sauces to a boil before serving. Microwaved leftovers shouldn’t have cold spots (bacteria can survive). Cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking.

Following these food safety steps at your house will make the meal a happy memory for everyone. Happy, healthy holidays from the Snohomish Health District!

Additional resources:

Free kit

The Holiday Food Safety Success Kit at www.holidayfoodsafety.org provides food safety advice and meal planning in one convenient location.

The kit includes information on purchasing, thawing and cooking a turkey; a holiday planner with menus, timelines, and shopping lists; and dozens of delicious (and food-safe) recipes. ]

The kit also has arts and crafts activities and downloads for kids so they can join the holiday fun.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

1-888-SAFEFOOD: For questions about safe handling of the many foods that go into a delicious holiday meal, including eggs, dairy, fresh produce and seafood.

Escherichia Coli_NIAID E Coli BacteriaNothing can ruin a party quite like food poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 31 pathogens known to cause food-borne illness.

Every year there are an estimated 48 million cases of illness, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths in the United States due to food-borne diseases.

Typical symptoms of food-borne illness are vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps which can start hours to days after contaminated food or drinks are consumed.

The symptoms usually are not long-lasting in healthy people—a few hours or a few days—and usually go away without medical treatment.

But food-borne illness can be severe and even life-threatening to anyone, especially those most at risk such as infants and young children, pregnant women, older adults, people with HIV/AIDS, cancer or any condition or medication that weakens the immune system.

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Fair season is here: win the blue ribbon for health and safety

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From the Washington State Department of Health

Hanging out with the goats, poultry, and cows can be the highlight of any trip to the local fair. Yet fair animals can also spread certain diseases.

“Going to see the animals at the fair is a treasured tradition for many families,” said Ron Wohrle, public health veterinarian for the Department of Health. “But even healthy animals can spread E. coli and Salmonella bacteria to people, which can make them sick. By following some basic safety tips you can enjoy the animals at the fair and stay healthy.”

Many kinds of animals can carry dangerous bacteria and viruses. The germs can be in their saliva, on their coats, and on surfaces contaminated by their waste. People can pick up those germs when they touch the animals or their surroundings. Most get sick by putting their hands or a contaminated object in their mouth or nose.

An estimated half-million people in the U.S. get sick every year because of a visit to animals at a fair, petting zoo, or other exhibit. Washington rules require signs warning people of the health risks, along with hand washing or sanitization stations near animal exhibits. Pregnant women, older adults, kids under five, and anyone who has an underlying illness should be especially careful to follow posted precautions.

Washing hands with running water and soap is the best way to avoid getting sick. It’s especially important after touching animals or their surroundings and before eating or drinking.

Children under five should be watched at all times while they visit animals to make sure they don’t put their hands or objects, like a pacifier, in their mouth while interacting with animals.

Stroller wheels can also pick up germs from animal areas and have been tied to illnesses in the past.

Call your health care provider immediately if someone in your family becomes sick after coming in contact with animals.

The Department of Health investigates cases and outbreaks of animal-related illnesses and works to make sure that places where animals are displayed follow state regulations. Information on staying healthy around animals is available online.

Photo courtesy of Christine Landis

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Don’t let foodborne illness ruin your summer picnic or barbecue – Department of Health

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hamburgerHot summer temperatures and meals served outside can be a recipe for illness if outdoor chefs don’t follow a few basic guidelines to keep outside eating healthy and safe.

“It’s harder to keep food at safe temperatures when it’s hot outside and we eat food away from home,” said Food Safety Program Manager Dave Gifford. “If you plan your picnic or barbecue so that food is stored and cooked at the correct temperatures and served safely, you can avoid food-related illnesses.”

Foodborne illnesses can range from mild nausea to a serious condition that requires medical attention.

Young children, the elderly, and people who have a weakened immune system are at higher risk to get severely ill.

Making sure you wash your hands thoroughly and often during food preparation is one of many ways to ensure that foods served outdoors are safe to eat.

State health officials also recommend storing ready-to-eat foods separately from raw meat to prevent contamination, preparing meat for barbecues at home using clean utensils, and washing fruits and vegetables before slicing and serving.

When packing for an outdoor picnic or barbecue, make sure to bring a food thermometer to ensure meats are cooked to a safe temperature; a cooler with plenty of ice to keep cold foods cold; and disposable wet-wipes, paper towels, and garbage bags for cleaning up.

Barbecued meat might look done, but only a food thermometer can show you if the food is safe. Recommended cooking temperatures:

  • Ground beef and hamburger – 160 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Hot dogs – 165 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Steaks and roasts – 145 Fahrenheit
  • Chicken breasts – 165 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Fish – 145 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Pork – 160 degrees Fahrenheit

Food that has been kept chilled at 41 degrees or below and whole fruits, bakery items, chips, and unopened drinks can be used later. Throw away prepared food such as barbecued meat, salad, melon, and sandwiches that have been sitting out for more than two hours.

Extra food should be kept cold in a cooler that’s stored in the shade. Food left in a car, on a table, or in a picnic basket for more than two hours should be thrown out.

More barbecue and picnic food safety tips are available online.

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E. coli outbreak leads to expanded recall of frozen food products

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Alert Icon with Exclamation Point!The Washington State Department of Health is warning people that several types of frozen food products – Farm Rich, Market Day, and Schwan’s brands – have been recalled due to possible contamination with E. coli.

 

The products were distributed widely throughout Washington.

The recalls are related to a national E. coli outbreak that sickened 27 people from 15 states, including a Pierce County woman in her 20s.

“The foods in this recall were sent to stores throughout our state,” said Dave Gifford, Food Safety program manager. “E. coli can be very serious. We’re asking people to look at the recall list, check their freezers carefully, and throw out any of these products that they find.”

The type of E. coli in this outbreak is a strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O121 (STEC O121), which is similar to E. coli O157:H7.

It can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. It can sometimes result in severe, life-threatening illness.

The recalled product list continues to expand and now includes several varieties of frozen snacks and mini-meal products.

The full list of the products currently covered by the recall is on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website; more info is on the Food Safety Program website.

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Healthy Monday Tip: Suds up for food safety

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healthy red cherry tomatoes with green stalkWashing fruits and vegetables before eating them reduces the risk of foodborne illness.

If fruits and veggies have a ridged or uneven skin, use a scrub brush to remove dirt from the grooves.

Remember, even produce with inedible skin should still be washed as a first step.

This week, get into the habit of washing all produce thoroughly before serving.

Be sure to start with clean hands and a sanitary work station.

 

About the Monday Campaigns:

The Healthy Monday Tips is produced by a national health promotion initiative called the Monday Campaigns.

The thinking behind the initiative derives from two studies done at the Center for a Liveable Future at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health by Jullian Fry and Roni Neff.

In one study, they reviewed the scientific studies that looked at ways to get people to adopt healthy habits.

In that review, they found that one of the most effective ways to keep people on track is simply to remind them from time to time to stick to it.

But when would be the best time send those reminders?

Fry and Neff decided to look at Monday, which many of us consider the start of our week.

To better understand how we thought and felt about Monday, they reviewed the scientific literature as well as cultural references to Monday in movies, songs, books and other forms of art and literature, even video games.

They noted that a number of scientific studies have found that we may suffer more health problems on Monday. For example, a number of studies find that Americans have more heart attacks and strokes on Monday.

There is also evidence that we have more on-the-job injuries on Monday, perhaps because we are not quite back into the swing of things, or are still recovering from our weekend.

Fry and Neff also found that while many of us, facing the return to work, may dread Mondays, Monday is also seen as a day for making a fresh start.

Fry and Neff concluded that Monday might be a good day for promoting healthy habits. Calling attention to the health problems linked to the first day of the work week, such as heart attacks and on-the-job injuries, makes Monday a natural day to highlight the importance of prevention.

And the Monday’s reputation as a day to make a fresh start offers the opportunity to help people to renew their efforts to adopt healthier habits.

Fry and Neff’s findings are put into practice by the Monday Campaigns, which helps individuals and organizations use Monday as a focus for their health promotion efforts, providing free research, literature and artwork, and other support.

To learn more about Healthy Mondays:

 

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More than 24,000 Snohomish County residents earn food worker certification online

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At signA record 24,000 Snohomish County residents earned a food worker card through online training in 2012, compared to less than 5,000 who earned their cards in a classroom, Snohomish County health officials report.

A food worker card is required for anyone who:

  • Works with unpackaged food, such as in a restaurant or bar
  • Touches food equipment, such as washing dishes
  • Works at any surface where people put unwrapped food, including grocery store cashiers

The county began to offer the food worker card classes online in the spring of last year. The online course takes about one hour to go through the curriculum and take the test.

The popularity of the online course has reduced the need for in-person classes, officials said, so the Snohomish Health District plans to reduce the number of in-person classes to four a month in English and to one a month in Spanish next year. .

Starting January 1, Health District will offer four classes a month in English and one in Spanish at the Snohomish Health District auditorium in the Rucker Building, 3020 Rucker Ave., Everett.

  • The in-person classes in English will be offered the first and third Thursday of each month at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
  • The in-person classes in Spanish will be offered the first Tuesday of each month at 10 a.m.
  • In-person classes will no longer be offered in Lynnwood.

The online training program also provides instruction in Korean, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Closed Caption

The cost of the training and test for a food worker card remains at $10.

Food worker cards are good for three years and are valid anywhere in Washington state.

The Health District accepts cash only for the in-person classes, and Visa or MasterCard only for online classes.

Find details at http://www.snohd.org/Shd_EH/Eh_FLE/FoodWorker.aspx#foodOnline

To learn more about food safety classes and the food safety program, visit www.snohd.org, keyword search “Food Class.” Optionally, call 425.339.5260 to hear a list of class dates.

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Turkey Time: Holiday food preparation tips from the CDC.

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Food safety tips from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Holidays are times we share the kitchen with family and friends. Make it a goal this year to also share good food safety practices. CDC is a partner with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which is responsible for the safety of meat and poultry.

Here are simple tips that all cooks in the kitchen can follow this holiday season for cooking a delicious and safely prepared turkey.

Uncooked turkey in a pot

Turkey Basics: Safely Thaw, Prepare, Stuff, and Cook

When preparing a turkey, be aware of the four main safety issues: thawing, preparing, stuffing, and cooking to adequate temperature.

Safe Thawing

Food Thermometer Truths

  • Always use a food thermometer to guarantee that foods are cooked to a safe-to-eat temperature.
  • Some food thermometers must be calibrated to ensure that they read food temperature accurately. Find out if your thermometer can be calibrated by reading the USDA fact sheet on kitchen thermometers.
  1. Fill a pot of water with distilled water and bring to a rolling boil.
  1. Hold the thermometer probe in the boiling water for one minute. Do not let the probe touch the pot.
  1. After one minute, the thermometer should read between 210° and 214° F. If it does not read between these temperatures adjust the thermometer manually to 212° F. If the thermometer cannot be adjusted manually do not use it until it is serviced by a professional.

Thawing turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature. The “danger zone” is between 40 and 140°F — the temperature range where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly.

While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely, but as soon as it begins to thaw, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again, if it is in the “danger zone.”

There are three safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in a microwave oven. For instructions, see “Safe Methods for Thawing;” instructions are also available in Spanish.

Safe Preparation

Bacteria present on raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils, and work surfaces as you prepare the turkey.

If these areas are not cleaned thoroughly before working with other foods, bacteria from the raw poultry can then be transferred to other foods.

After working with raw poultry, always wash your hands, utensils, and work surfaces before they touch other foods.

Safe Stuffing

For optimal safety and uniform doneness, cook the stuffing outside the turkey in a casserole dish. However, if you place stuffing inside the turkey, do so just before cooking, and use a food thermometer.

Make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F.

Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F, possibly resulting in foodborne illness.

Follow the FSIS’ steps to safely prepare, cook, remove, and refrigerate stuffingSpanish language instructions are available.

Safe Cooking

Set the oven temperature no lower than 325°F and be sure the turkey is completely thawed. Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep.

Check the internal temperature at the center of the stuffing and meaty portion of the breast, thigh, and wing joint using a food thermometer. Cooking times will vary.

The food thermometer must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat.

For more information on safe internal temperatures, visit FoodSafety.gov’s Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures.

Following these cooking guidelines can help you prepare
a safe holiday dinner that everyone will enjoy.

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Samish Bay shellfish harvest closed due to high fecal bacteria in Samish River

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OLYMPIA – The state Department of Health has temporarily closed Samish Bay to shellfish harvesting because of high levels of fecal bacteria from the Samish River.

When the numbers of fecal coliform bacteria are high, the bay is closed to assure that contaminated shellfish are not marketed.

The state health agency’s Shellfish Program says this closure shows there’s more work to do to correct the pollution problems that have affected Samish Bay.

Samish Bay is currently classified as “Conditionally Approved,” because it is periodically closed due to fecal pollution when the Samish River rises quickly.

Samish Bay - Washington State Department of Ecology

The Shellfish Program will continue to collect and test water samples, and will reopen shellfish harvests when results improve. Past closures have lasted a few days.

Local and state agencies, residents, and volunteers have been working for three years to eliminate the temporary closures of Samish Bay. That would lead state health officials to change the classification to “Approved.”

State health officials say the bay could be upgraded to “Approved” if there is only one pollution closure between March 1 and June 30.

Another closure this spring would confirm that more work needs to be done to identify and correct pollution problems.

Skagit County, Skagit Conservation District, the Departments of Ecology and Agriculture, residents and volunteers are continuing to identify pollution problems and get them fixed.

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Keeping food safe during power outages

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During power outages, food can go bad. Even food that smells and tastes fine can harbor bacteria that can make you and your family ill. To help you avoid such food-borne illnesses, the Washington State Department of Health has prepared the following food-safety tips:

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Spoiled food can make you sick; handle, store food safely when power is out

Keep cold food cold to prevent bacteria from growing: if in doubt, throw it out

When the power is out it’s important to protect your food supply. Keeping foods cold or making sure they’re fully cooked can protect you from foodborne illness. That can be difficult without power.

If you think power might be out for a long time, use food that can spoil fast before food that keeps longer. It’s most important to keep meat, seafood, and dairy products cold.

Refrigerator doors should be kept closed as much as possible to keep cold air inside. Freezers that are part of a refrigerator-freezer combination will keep food frozen for up to a day.

A free-standing chest or upright freezer will keep food frozen solid for two days if it is fully loaded. The more it is opened, the quicker it will thaw.

An ice chest packed with ice or snow is a good temporary solution. However, storing food outside is not recommended. Outside temperatures change often and the sun can thaw frozen foods or warm cold foods so that bacteria can grow. Animals can also contaminate food left outside.

“If in doubt, throw it out.” 

Bags of ice or block ice from the store can be placed in the refrigerator to keep food cold. Also, many items that people often keep in their refrigerator can temporarily be stored on a countertop or in a cool place like a garage. Some examples include fresh uncut fruits and vegetables, butter and margarine, ketchup, mustard, pickles, relish and similar condiments.

When it comes to food safety, the general rule is, “If in doubt, throw it out.” Never taste suspicious food. It may look and smell fine, but bacteria that cause foodborne illness may be present and could make you sick.

If food is cold to the touch, and you know it has not been above 45 degrees F for more than an hour or two, it’s probably safe to keep, use, or refreeze. Throw away all meat, seafood, dairy products, or cooked foods that don’t feel cold to the touch. Even under proper refrigeration, many raw foods should be kept only three or four days before they are cooked, frozen, or thrown away.

It is important to be very careful when trying to cook during a power outage. NEVER USE A CAMPING STOVE OR BARBEQUE INDOORS. They put off carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas that can’t be seen or smelled. It can kill a person in minutes.

To learn more:

  • The state Department of Health has several fact sheets on staying safe in bad weather (www.doh.wa.gov/Topics/weather.htm). They’re available in multiple languages.
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Thanksgiving food safety tips from Public Health – Seattle & King County

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Uncooked turkey in a potFood safety for Thanksgiving goes beyond the proper preparation and cooking of turkey, says Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County: cross-contamination and improper preparation and storage of other foods are other common causes of food-borne illnesses during the holiday season.

To protect yourself, your family and guests from Salmonella, E. Coli and other food-borne illnesses, follow these key food safety tips”

Wash your hands

  • Wash your hands for about 20 seconds with warm water and soap to get rid of the germs that can get into food and make people sick.
  • Wash your hands after going to the bathroom, after touching raw meat, fish or poultry, and after taking out the garbage, sneezing, or coughing.

Keep foods safe from cross contamination

  • Avoid cross contamination, which occurs when germs from raw foods get onto foods that will not be cooked or fully reheated to 165º F before eating.
  • Put raw poultry, meat and fish in the “meat” drawer of the refrigerator, or put them on the bottom shelf in the refrigerator so the juices don’t drip on foods that won’t be cooked.
  • Use a hard cutting surface with no splits or holes in it.
  • Wash, rinse and sanitize the cutting surface and utensils after cutting raw poultry, meat, and fish, as well as melons. Make a sanitizer with 1 teaspoon of household bleach for each gallon of cool water.

Heat foods to their proper temperature

  • In order to kill all bacteria, cook turkey, dressing containing turkey parts, other poultry and wild game to at least 165º F, ground beef and ground pork to 155º F, and fish, shellfish, lamb, other pork, other beef, and eggs to 145º F. (Most people will prefer turkey that has been cooked to an even higher temperature).
  • Cold foods should be kept cold (lower than 41º F), and hot foods should be held hot (above 140º F).

Cool and reheat foods properly

  • Cool food properly by placing it in uncovered shallow pans in the refrigerator.
  • If you are taking prepared food to share with others, be certain that you keep it hot (above 140º F) or cold (41º F or below) during the trip and until it is served.
  • If food has been sitting at room temperature for not more than 2 hours, refrigerate it or reheat it. If food has been sitting out for longer than 2 hours, throw it out.
  • Take care with leftovers. Be sure the food has been cooled properly, then kept cold on the journey home.

Vegetables and fruit

  • Wash and scrub fruits and vegetables under cold running water.
  • Scrub the exterior of melons before cutting them, and then keep them cold at 41º F or below.
  • Keep “starchy foods” like cooked beans (legumes), rice, potatoes and pasta at 140º F or above, or cold at 41º F or below. Be sure to refrigerate within 2 hours after the meal.
  • Keep tofu and other plant protein foods hot (140º F or above) or cold (41º F or below).
  • Sprouts must be kept at 41º F or below until used.

Donated foods

Meal programs and food banks see a large amount of food donated around the holidays, and this Thanksgiving is no exception. Public Health encourages your generous food donations, and stresses that the biggest need is for high quality canned protein foods, fruits and vegetables.

If you are donating fresh produce or a perishable food that has been kept continuously refrigerated at 41º F or less, call the donor agency before delivering to make sure that they have refrigerator or freezer space, and that they can accept what you would like to donate.

For additional information on food safety, please visit:

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Eat safely at our end-of-summer fairs

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Food Safety at Fairs and Festivals
Health feature from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A big part of summer for many people is attending fairs and festivals. There are always fun things to see and experience, including art work, music, games, and rides. One of the biggest draws to these events is the many different types of foods and drinks available.

Because foodborne illnesses increase during the summer months, it is even more important to follow food safety steps. Many foodborne illnesses are caused by consuming foods or beverages contaminated with germs.

Photo by David Ritter

One reason for the increase of foodborne illnesses in the summertime is that people are cooking and eating outside at places such as fairs and festivals more often.

Sometimes, the usual safety controls that a kitchen provides, like thermostat-controlled cooking, refrigeration, and washing facilities, may not be available when cooking and dining at these events.

Remember that food safety practices should be the same at fairs as they are at home: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill. Learn more about these steps here, and make this a food safe summer by reducing your risk of foodborne illness.

Consumers

What should a consumer consider before buying food from a vendor?

  • Does the vendor have a clean/tidy workstation?
  • Does the vendor have a sink for employees to wash their hands?
  • Do the employees wear gloves or use tongs when handling food?
  • Does the vendor have refrigeration on site for raw ingredients or pre-cooked foods?
  • Has the vendor been inspected? Requirements vary by state, but in general temporary and mobile vendors, like those at fairs and carnivals, should have a license to sell food and beverages in a particular state or county.
  • Check with the local health department to see if the vendors are licensed and if a food inspection has been completed.

Are there healthy food alternatives to consider at fairs and festivals?

When purchasing food from a vendor, look for healthy options first. If they are not available, consider bringing your own food to save money and calories.

Bringing food from home allows you to eat a healthy meal or snack as a family, while still enjoying the festive atmosphere around you. Don’t forget to keep safe food storage practices in mind.

If bringing food from home, what  are proper food handling and storage practices?

If you bring food to a fair or festival from home, be sure to keep food handling and storage times in mind. Don’t let food sit out for more than two hours. On a hot day (90°F or higher), reduce this time to one hour. Be sure to put perishable items in a cooler or insulated bag. For budget-minded folks, eat before you go to the fair.

What steps can you take to protect you and your family?

Wash Hands Often:

  • Find out where hand washing stations are located.
  • Always wash your hands right after petting animals, touching the animal enclosure, and exiting animal areas even if you did not touch an animal.
  • Always wash hands after using the restroom, after playing a game or going on a ride, before eating and drinking, before preparing food or drinks, after changing diapers, and after removing soiled clothes or shoes.
  • Bring hand sanitizers or disposable wipes in case there aren’t any places to wash your hands.
  • Directions for washing hands can be found here.

Report Illness:

Anytime you suspect you may have contracted a foodborne illness,report it to your local health department, even if it is after you have recovered. The local public health department is an important part of the food safety system. Often, calls from concerned citizens are how outbreaks are first detected. If a public health official contacts you to find out more about an illness you had, your cooperation is important. In public health investigations, it can be as important to talk to healthy people as it is to ill people. Your cooperation may be needed even if you are not ill.

Food Vendors, Community Organizations, and Fair Organizers

Requirements differ by state, but in general temporary and mobile food vendors should apply for a  food license with the fair’s state or county health department.  Many community-based organizations set up booths to sell various foods at local festivals and fairs too. There are special exceptions, but it is better to be safe than sorry—get a license!  Contact information for local and state health departments can be found here.

Fair organizers should try to include a person trained in food safety throughout the planning process, as well as have them present at the fair.

It is important that food safety steps are followed so the food served doesn’t make anyone sick. Try to cook-serve, which means limiting the amount of food preparation performed offsite. In addition, follow the four basic food safety steps:  CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK, and CHILL. Learn more about these steps here.

Now you’re on your way to a safe and healthy summer! 

PHOTO CREDIT: Ferris wheel by David Ritter.

More Information

For additional food safety questions, visit the FSIS Virtual Representative, Ask Karen, or call the Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 (available in English and Spanish).

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Barbecue Bliss: Keeping bacteria at bay

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Summer brings out barbecue grills—and bacteria, which multiply in food faster in warm weather and can cause foodborne illness (also known as food poisoning). Following a few simple guidelines can prevent an unpleasant experienc

Wash your hands

Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. If you’re eating where there’s no source of clean water, bring water, soap, and paper towels or have disposable wipes/hand sanitizer available.

Marinate food in the refrigerator

Don’t marinate on the counter—marinate in the refrigerator. If you want to use marinade as a sauce on cooked food, save a separate portion in the refrigerator. Do not reuse marinade that contacted raw meat, poultry, or seafood on cooked food unless you bring it to a boil first.

Keep raw food separate

Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a separate cooler or securely wrapped at the bottom of a cooler so their juices won’t contaminate already prepared foods or raw produce. Don’t use a plate or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood for anything else unless you wash them first in hot, soapy water. Have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side for serving.

Cook food thoroughly

Use a food thermometer to make sure food is cooked thoroughly to destroy harmful bacteria. Refer to the Safe Minimum Temperatures chart for safe internal temperatures for foods. Partial precooking in the microwave oven or on the stove is a good way to reduce grilling time—just make sure the food goes immediately on the preheated grill to finish cooking.

Keep hot food hot and cold food cold

Keep hot food at 140°F or above until served. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill, or wrap well and place in an insulated container.

Keep cold food at 40°F or below until served. Keep cold perishable food in a cooler until serving time. Keep coolers out of direct sun and avoid opening the lid often.

Cold foods can be placed directly on ice or in a shallow container set in a pan of ice. Drain off water as ice melts and replace ice frequently.

Don’t let hot or cold perishables sit out for longer than two hours, or one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90°F. When reheating fully cooked meats, grill to 165°F or until steaming hot.

Transport food in the passenger compartment of the car where it’s cooler—not in the trunk.

Put these items on your list

These non-food items are indispensable for a safe barbecue.

  • Food thermometer
  • Several coolers: one for beverages (which will be opened frequently), one for raw meats, poultry, and seafood, and another for cooked foods and raw produce
  • Ice or frozen gel packs for coolers
  • Jug of water, soap, and paper towels for washing hands
  • Enough plates and utensils to keep raw and cooked foods separate
  • Foil or other wrap for leftovers

This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

June 27, 2011

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alfalfa-sprouts

European E. coli outbreak linked to bean sprouts

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German health authorities have linked the E. coli outbreak that has killed 22 and sickened 1,700 people across Europe to locally grown bean sprouts, the European press is reporting today.

The strain — Escherichia coli O104:H4 (STEC O104:H4) –produces a toxin that can cause severe, bloody diarrhea and kidney failure, a condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating three suspected cases of E. coli infections linked to the outbreak in Europe. All had recently travelled to Hamburg, Germany, the CDC said.

“Any person with recent travel to Germany with signs or symptoms of STEC infection or HUS, should seek medical care and let the medical provider know about the outbreak of STEC infections in Germany and the importance of being tested,” the CDC warns.

To learn more read these sprout FAQs from FoodSafety.gov:

Do sprouts carry a risk of illness?

Like any fresh produce that is consumed raw or lightly cooked, sprouts carry a risk of foodborne illness. Unlike other fresh produce, seeds and beans need warm and humid conditions to sprout and grow. These conditions are also ideal for the growth of bacteria, including Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli.

Have sprouts been associated with outbreaks of foodborne illness?

Since 1996, there have been at least 30 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with different types of raw and lightly cooked sprouts. Most of these outbreaks were caused by Salmonella and E. coli.

What is the source of the bacteria?

In outbreaks associated with sprouts, the seed is typically the source of the bacteria. There are a number of approved techniques to kill harmful bacteria that may be present on seeds and even tests for seeds during sprouting. But, no treatment is guaranteed to eliminate all harmful bacteria.

Are homegrown sprouts safer?

Not necessarily. If just a few harmful bacteria are present in or on the seed, the bacteria can grow to high levels during sprouting, even under sanitary conditions at home.

What can industry do to enhance the safety of sprouts?

In 1999, the FDA provided the sprout industry with guidance on reducing the risk of contamination of sprouts by harmful bacteria. The FDA and other Federal and state agencies continue to work with industry on detecting and reducing contamination and keeping contaminated sprouts out of the marketplace.

What can consumers do to reduce the risk of illness?

  • Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts).
  • Cook sprouts thoroughly to reduce the risk of illness. Cooking kills the harmful bacteria.
  • Request that raw sprouts not be added to your food. If you purchase a sandwich or salad at a restaurant or delicatessen, check to make sure that raw sprouts have not been added.

General Information

To learn more about the E. Coli outbreak in Europe:

  • Visit Germany’s Robert Koch Institute which posts updates in English.
  • Visit Public Health – Seattle & King County’s information page on E. coli, which includes information in Chinese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Somali and Vietnamese.
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E. coli -- Photo: Janice Haney Carr/CDC

Three cases of E. coli infection in the U.S. linked to European outbreak

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E. coli -- Photo: Janice Haney Carr/CDC

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating three suspected cases of E. coli infections linked to the outbreak in Europe.

All had recently travelled to Hamburg, Germany, the agency reports.

The E. coli strain — Escherichia coli O104:H4 (STEC O104:H4) –produces a toxin that can cause severe, bloody diarrhea and kidney failure, a condition called hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS.

The outbreak was centered in Germany, which as for May 31, has seen 470 patients with HUS with nine deaths, the CDC said.

“Any person with recent travel to Germany with signs or symptoms of STEC infection or HUS, should seek medical care and let the medical provider know about the outbreak of STEC infections in Germany and the importance of being tested,” the CDC warns.

To learn more read the CDC update below:

CDC Statement on Outbreak of STEC O104:H4 infections in Germany

CDC is following a large outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O104, or STEC O104, infections currently going on in Germany.

As of May 31, 2011, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), Germany’s disease control and prevention agency, has confirmed six deaths and 373 patients with hemolytic uremic syndrome, or (HUS) (kidney failure), a life-threatening complication of E. coli infections.

To date, no confirmed cases of STEC O104 infections have been reported in U.S. travelers to Europe. Two cases of HUS in the United States have been reported in persons with recent travel to Hamburg, Germany.

CDC is working with state health departments to learn more about these two cases and to identify others. CDC has been in contact with the German public health authorities at RKI. We have alerted state health departments in the United States of the ongoing outbreak.

We have also requested that they report to CDC any cases in which people have either HUS or Shiga toxin-positive diarrheal illness, with illness onset during or after travel to Germany since April 1, 2011.

The strain of STEC causing illness, STEC O104:H4, is very rare. CDC is not aware of any cases of STEC O104:H4 infection ever being reported in United States.

Any person with recent travel to Germany with signs or symptoms of STEC infection or HUS, should seek medical care and let the medical provider know about the outbreak of STEC infections in Germany and the importance of being tested.

Symptoms of STEC infection include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, which is often bloody, and vomiting. If there is fever, it usually is not very high.

Most people get better within 5–7 days, but some patients go on to develop HUS—usually about a week after the diarrhea starts. Symptoms of HUS include decreased frequency of urination, feeling very tired, and losing pink color to skin and membranes due to anemia.

CDC is not aware that a specific food has been confirmed as the source of the infections. Travelers to Germany should be aware that the German public health authorities have recommended against eating raw lettuce, tomatoes or cucumbers, particularly in the northern states of Germany (Hamburg, Bremen, Lower Saxony, Schleswig Holstein).

We have no information that any of these suspected foods have been shipped from Europe to the United States at this time. The US Department of Defense has been notified of this outbreak because of the presence of U.S. military bases in Germany. We are not aware of any cases among U.S. military personnel.

Here are answers to frequently asked questions:

Would this be the largest E. coli outbreak ever in the world?

We are still learning more about the overall size of this outbreak. The number of HUS cases involved indicates that the outbreak is very large.

Tell us about this rare strain and are we testing for it here?

A very rare strain of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, or STEC has been reported from some patients in the outbreak. This strain, E. coli O104:H4 has never been seen in the United States, and CDC is only aware of few reports of this strain from other countries.

Although it is rare, the United States’ public health surveillance systems are designed to be able to identify this, and other rare STEC strains, in ill people. However, the ability to detect STEC infections through surveillance depends on proper diagnostic testing of patients presenting with symptoms suggestive of STEC.

In 2009, CDC published recommendations for the diagnosis of STEC infections by clinical laboratories. The illness that it causes is similar to that caused by E. coli O157:H7 which is also a Shiga toxin-producing E. coli and the one most commonly identified in the United States.

Could people travel from Germany and spread it here?

STEC infections can be spread from person to person. The best defense is careful, thorough hand washing. Persons returning from Germany who have diarrhea should be sure to wash hands well with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, and should not prepare food for others while they are ill.

People who are in contact with ill people who recently visited Germany should also follow basic hygiene practices carefully, including washing their hands thoroughly before eating or drinking and after caring for an ill person.

Why so many sick people?

It is too early to know why this is such a large outbreak. The large size may have to do with contamination of a popular food item. However, to our knowledge a specific food vehicle has yet to be confirmed. It is also possible that the unusual strain is particularly likely to cause HUS.

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