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Summer Safety for You and Your Kids

Foodborne Illness

Summer is prime time for weddings, picnics, graduation parties, family cookouts -- and foodborne illness. Feeding the large groups involved can make food safety especially challenging. After one graduation celebration, at least 81 students from E.C. Drury High School in Milton, Ontario, reported signs of food poisoning. Stool samples confirmed E. coli as the cause of illness, though the exact food source of the bacterium was not confirmed. Known sources of E. coli include undercooked beef, sausage, and contaminated produce.

Typical signs of foodborne illness include nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea. In serious cases, high fever, bloody stool, and prolonged vomiting may occur. Young children, pregnant women, older people, and those with compromised immune systems are hit hardest.

Bacteria, whether in food or in the air, grow faster in warmer weather. You need to be aware of more than just the potato salad or egg dishes, experts say. You need to exercise care with any food, including melons and lettuce. Since 1996, there has been multiple outbreaks of foodborne illness for which fresh lettuce or fresh tomatoes were the confirmed or suspected source. The causes included E. coli, salmonella, cyclospora, campylobacter, and hepatitis A virus. Keep in mind that unpasteurized honey poses the danger of botulism to young children. Babies under 12 months of age should never be given raw honey.

Foodborne illness prevention and treatment

It seems so basic, but not everyone does it. Wash your hands well and often with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom and before cooking or eating. Also wash surfaces when cooking, keep raw food separate from cooked food, marinate food in the refrigerator, cook food thoroughly, and refrigerate or freeze food promptly. Never defrost and then refreeze foods. The FDA suggests never leaving food out for more than one hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees. Any other time, don't leave food out for more than two hours. Keep hot food hot and cold food cold  Wash off fruits and vegetables with cool running water. Also, scrub fruits with rough surfaces like cantaloupe with a soft brush.

When you are packing food for a picnic, place cold food in a cooler with plenty of ice or commercial freezing gels. Cold food should be held at or below 40 degrees and the cooler should be stored in shade. Hot food should be wrapped well, placed in an insulated container, and kept at or above 140 degrees.

Keeping a child with foodborne illness hydrated is the most important job. Electrolyte solutions like Pedialyte are good, but not all children like the flavor. Sports drinks are a reasonable alternative in the short term. Popsicles and ice chips are also acceptable when all else fails. Encourage the child to drink small amounts frequently, and watch to be sure that he or she urinates at least every six to eight hours. Once vomiting stops, return the child to a regular diet as soon as tolerated, but be aware that milk and fruit juices can sometimes prolong diarrhea. Seek emergency treatment if severe pain accompanies the illness, if vomiting doesn't stop in a few hours, or if blood appears in diarrhea.

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