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Microorganisms Can Spoil Picnic Fun
By Marcela Cartagena
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Ants may be the least of your picnics concerns if you fail to handle the food safely. Microorganisms can multiply and cause serious health consequences making the outdoor fun fade from memory.
"When handling food at a picnic, it is important to remember three things -- time, temperature and personal hygiene," said Dr. Melissa Mixon, a human nutrition specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
"Once you buy food at the grocery store, that clock starts ticking," Mixon said. "Time control is important to avoid the growth of microorganisms."
Mixon said microorganisms can multiply to dangerously high levels in food exposed for more than an hour on a hot summer day. To avoid growth of bacteria or other microorganisms, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Also, serve food promptly, especially during the summer.
Mixon said bacteria seldom change the taste, color or appearance of the food, but they can multiply to the millions in a few hours and cause illness.
Cleanliness is extremely important when handling food. When preparing food, wash hands and fingernails with soapy water. Sanitize each utensil, container or cutting board to avoid cross contamination.
"Be careful when cooking beef, poultry, pork and seafood products," Mixon said. "When people eat undercooked meats they increase the risk of becoming ill."
To avoid food borne illness from beef, chicken and other animal products, cook meats throughly to kill all harmful bacteria. When grilling out, clean wire racks before use and sanitize by heating and then brushing the rack.
"Never placed the cooked meat back on the same plate that held the raw meat unless it has been thoroughly washed or sanitized. Otherwise there will be germs on the cooked meat," Mixon said. "If you have food left over, consider how long you kept it at room temperature. If the food has been exposed to temperatures between 40 to 140 degrees longer than two hours, throw it away."
Mixon said there are four groups of people who have to be very careful to avoid food borne illness -- children, pregnant women, elderly and people with a compromised immune system. If these people think they have food borne illness they should consult a doctor immediately because they can find themselves very quickly in a dangerous situation. Other healthy people can treat the symptoms, but if symptoms persist, they should consult a doctor.
"Generally the symptoms of food borne illness are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever or cramps," Mixon said. "However, in more serious cases, victims may have nervous system problems such as paralysis, double vision or trouble swallowing or breathing."
Mixon said microorganisms are responsible for millions of illnesses and thousands of deaths in the United States each year.
"Food borne illness doesn't have to happen. Some 85 percent of cases reported could be avoided if people just handled food properly," Mixon said.