MedExpress Urgent Care: How to avoid food poisoning


With summer here, a lot of people are getting their grills out and are cooking up those amazing summer meals. But if they’re not cooked right, they can pose a threat too not only you, but your health. 

To avoid getting food poisoning from certain things you cook, Dr. Rhonda Parks from MedExpress Urgent Care is here!

The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that each year 48 million (or roughly one out of six Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration calculates that about two to three percent of all food poisoning cases lead to secondary long-term illnesses such as arthritis, kidney failure, and meningitis.

Dr. Rhonda Parks, a physician with MedExpress Urgent Care in Arkansas is here with us today to talk about the care needed when working with raw meats, summer salads, dairy products and fruits, and vegetables, which are among the most perishable foods at cookouts.

What is food poisoning?

Welcome, Dr. Rhonda Parks. Tell us we hear a lot about food poisoning, but what exactly is it?

  • Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness, is illness caused by eating contaminated food. Infectious organisms — including bacteria, viruses and parasites — or their toxins are the most common causes of food poisoning.
  • Contamination can occur at home if food in incorrectly handled or cooked.

What are the symptoms, and how long does it typically take for food-poisoning symptoms to first appear? How long do they last?

  • Food poisoning symptoms often include nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Signs and symptoms may start within hours after eating the contaminated food. Sickness caused by food poisoning generally lasts from a few hours to several days.

When should someone with suspected food poisoning see a healthcare provider?

  • Great question. Seek medical attention if you experience frequent vomiting and are unable to keep liquids down, have diarrhea for more than three days, or extreme pain or severe cramping. Also, keep an eye out for signs and symptoms of dehydration, like excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, and severe weakness. You may require intravenous (IV) fluids administered by a medical professional if you’re dehydrated and are unable to keep fluids down when you drink.

Preparation and Cooking

How can I prevent food poisoning?

  • To prevent food poisoning at home, especially on Memorial Day, wash your hands, utensils, and food surfaces often, keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods, and cook foods to a safe temperature. Also, double check expiration dates on foods, like chicken, hot dogs, or other meats, before cooking.

Is there any benefit to washing meat, poultry or seafood before cooking or grilling?

  • Good question. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service does not recommend washing raw poultry, beef, pork, lamb or veal before cooking. Bacteria in the raw meat and poultry juices can spread to other goods, utensils, and surfaces, which could lead to cross-contamination.
  • Some might equate washing to cleanliness, but that isn’t the case with raw meats. Some of those bacteria are so tiny and tightly attached that they simply cannot be removed.
  • Besides, cooking foods to the right temperature kills the bacteria anyways, making food washing unnecessary.

Why is it important to use fresh, clean plates and utensils for preparation? What about serving cooked food?

  • Always begin your food preparation with clean hands, utensils, and surfaces. Then, take a look at your produce and protein. If there happen to be any bruised or damaged areas since the time you bought them, cut them away. Discard anything that appears to be rotten on produce.
  • While your sink is nearby, make sure your produce is rinsed thoroughly with water. Some items, like cucumbers or melons, should be scrubbed with a produce brush. Pat them dry after a thorough cleaning.
  • If your packaged or pre-cut produce indicates on the wrapping that it’s pre-washed, it’s likely ready to consume. And it’s also recommended to only wash your produce right before you’re ready to eat it. Washing and storing your produce to enjoy later will cause it to spoil faster.
  • Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards and utensils for produce and raw meat or eggs.

What is the proper cooking temperature to kill bacteria?

  • Raw ground beef, pork, lamb, or veal should be cooked to 160 degrees, while raw poultry should be cooked t 165 internally.
  • Using that thermometer is the only way of knowing if your food has reached a high enough temperature to destroy foodborne bacteria.
  • If you don’t have a thermometer handy, it’s a good rule of thumb to cook meats until juices run clear. If your burger still has reddish juices coming from the top, then it’s not cooked enough yet. If you’re unsure about how done other cuts of meat are, you can check by cutting into the largest piece of protein and checking the color. Fish and poultry should be white and flaky (opaque or pink colors may indicate it’s not fully cooked).
  • For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. If you prefer a more well-done cook on your meat, you can choose to cook to higher temperatures.

Are there any other grilling or cooking safety tips I should keep in mind?

  • Absolutely. When it comes to grill safety, especially around children, always supervise a barbecue grill when it’s in use, and never grill indoors. It’s best to use long-handled tools that are especially made for grilling to keep the chef safe. The grill should always be cleaned before use, especially after a long winter of infrequent use. Any excess dust or grease can cause a fire.

Serving Foods

How long can perishable food, especially in hot outdoor weather, sit out?

  • It’s easy to leave perishable foods, like meat, cheese, and potato salad, out in the sun during cookouts, so remember to refrigerate or freeze them promptly after preparation.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. If you’re not sure about how long a food has been prepared, served, or stored, throw it out. Food left at room temperature too long may contain bacteria or toxins that can’t be destroyed by cooking. Don’t taste food that you’re unsure about — just throw it out. Even if it looks and smells fine, it may not be safe to eat.
  • According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, food should never be left out of refrigeration for more than two hours. And if temperatures are above 90 degrees, foods should not be left out more than 1 hour.
  • Remember this keep your hot foods hot (using a campfire, portable stove, etc), and keep your cold foods cold (using ice, frozen cooler packs, or another cold source)

And of course, you can visit MedExpress Urgent Care on their website here! 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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