Banish food-borne illness from summer parties

Eating well - June 2005


Virginia Van Vynckt


Tis the season for graduations, weddings, Father’s Day, fireworks, family reunions, camp outs—and food poisoning.

As you celebrate the arrival of balmy weather, the last thing you want to think about is food-borne illness. But nothing spoils the afterglow of a fun family picnic faster than a bunch of wretchedly ill guests—especially if they’re kids. Food-borne illnesses that cause discomfort in adults can spell disaster in children.

Fortunately, it’s easy to protect against food-borne illnesses. All it takes is a bit of care:

• Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot means at least 140 degrees. If you can handle it without getting burned, it’s not hot. Cold means 40 degrees—or refrigerator temperature. Keep those bratwursts or hot dogs in the cooler until you’re ready to cook them, and return cooked brats to the cooler (or toss them) if they’re not eaten promptly.

• Cook foods all the way through. That goes double for ground meats. Remember that E. coli (frequently linked to undercooked ground meats) is the No. 1 cause of kidney failure in children.

• Wash all produce thoroughly. And be sure to keep cut-up fruits and vegetables cold until serving.

• Add preservatives. Unless you’ll have access to a refrigerator, save Aunt Meg’s buttermilk dressing or Uncle Jim’s custard pie for another occasion. Use dressings that contain vinegar or lemon juice on foods such as potato salad. One persistent myth is that mayonnaise is the culprit in many food-borne illness outbreaks. If anything, mayo slows down the growth of bacteria, thanks to its vinegar content. Salt, vinegar and sugar act as preservatives, though they’re not foolproof. So do some herbs and spices—another reason to put a bit of dill or rosemary in the potato salad.

• Keep it covered. This will keep flies (yuck!) and other critters, including airborne bacteria, away from what you’re eating.

• Watch the clock. Most foods generally are safe for up to two hours at room temperature, less when it’s really hot outside. Here’s a frequent scenario: Your daughter has some of Aunt Sue’s famous ham and pasta salad at the family reunion. She enjoys dessert, plays a couple of games of volleyball and starts in again on the picnic food. By then, Aunt Sue’s soon-to-be-infamous pasta salad has sat out for 2½ hours in an outside temperature of 85 degrees. That’s a recipe for disaster.

• Keep hands clean. An outbreak of E. coli in Florida this spring brought this advice home. After touching the animals in a petting zoo, children put their unwashed fingers in their mouths. That’s all it took to make at least 22 people ill, including a 5-year-old girl who ended up in critical condition. When you’re packing for a picnic or camp out, bring soapless hand wash or antibacterial wipes. You’ll really appreciate them when you find out the park has no running water in the bathrooms.

• When in doubt, throw it out. If you’re not 100 percent comfortable eating or serving a food, toss it.

You’ll be happy to know that brownies are safe. Not that they ever last long enough to pose a problem. Virginia Van Vynckt, mother of two, has written extensively about food and nutrition, and is the author of Feed Your Kids Right the Lazy Way.

Serves 8-10 1½ pounds broccoli florets    (2-3 stems if buying whole) 12 baby carrots ½ cup dark raisins 1/3 cup roasted sunflower seed      kernels

Dressing: ¼ cup orange juice 1/3 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise 1-2 teaspoons sugar, to taste 2 tablespoons minced red onion    (optional) Salt to taste If you’ve bought the broccoli florets whole rather than packaged, cut them into separate, small florets and pieces about ¾ to 1 inch. Cut each carrot into 4 to 5 slices, or coarsely chop the carrots in a food processor or mini food chopper. In a large bowl, combine the broccoli, carrots, raisins and sunflower seed kernels. In another, smaller bowl, whisk together the orange juice, mayonnaise, sugar, onion and salt until smooth. Add to the vegetables and toss to coat. Keep cold until serving time. Variations of this broccoli-raisin-sunflower seed salad are longtime picnic favorites. Even kids who normally shy away from broccoli will often eat this salad, with its appealing, sweet dressing. I’ve added carrots, a kid-friendly veggie, for color and additional sweetness.


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