By Andrew Solomon

shutterstock_106626869This is part 4 of a 4 part series highlighting “summer germs” this week (June 24 – June 28).

A foodborne illness or “food poisoning” is caused by a germ (either a bacteria or virus) or toxin (harmful substance produced by a living organism). These germs, like E. coli or Salmonella, can cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and headache. Foodborne illnesses spread when people eat contaminated or undercooked meat, chicken, shellfish, fish, dairy products, or produce, or by drinking contaminated liquids. It’s often not the last thing you ate either – it can take 30 minutes to 2 weeks for you to feel sick. “Food poisoning” can happen to anyone at any time, but occurs more often in the summer when food is left outside in warm weather. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are at the greatest risk for serious and possibly life threatening illness from “food poisoning”.

Follow these four steps to prevent foodborne illness:

  1. Clean
  • Wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing food, after touching raw food, before eating, after using the restroom, and after changing a diaper or cleaning up a child who has used the restroom.
  • Rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before cooking, packing, or eating.
  • Wash all surfaces and utensils with warm, soapy water before and after use.
  1. Separate
  • Keep juices from raw meat, poultry, or fish from coming in contact with other foods, cooked or raw. These juices contain germs!
  • Use separate plates for raw and cooked meat, fish, or poultry.
  • Use one cutting board for meat or poultry and one for ready-to-eat food.
  1. Cook
  • Thaw foods in the refrigerator or microwave, not on the counter.
  • Cook foods to proper temperatures and use a food thermometer to make sure food is at a safe internal temperature.
  • Do not interrupt cooking by partially cooking food and then finishing later.
  • When serving, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
  1. Chill
  • Refrigerate leftover and unused portions promptly.
  • Food should not be out for more than 2 hours. If out on a hot summer day, do not leave food out for more than 1 hour.
  • Keep your cooler full to maintain cold temperatures, keep it out of the sun and limit the number of times you open it.

Contact your healthcare provider or the Boston Public Health Commission at (617) 534-5611 or with additional questions on “food poisoning” or other “summer germs”. If you need help locating a healthcare provider or getting health insurance, contact the Mayor’s Health Line at (617) 534-5050.

Check out our previous blogs this week to learn more about rabies and mosquito-borne illnesses! It’s also not too late to get a free HIV test!

Andrew Solomon is a project manager with the Public Health Commission, supporting the Infectious Disease Bureau in Education & Outreach.