Gayle Finkelstein is Vermont Poison Prevention Educator with the Northern New England Poison Center in Community Health Improvement at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Gayle Finkelstein is Vermont Poison Prevention Educator with the Northern New England Poison Center in Community Health Improvement at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

It’s that time of year for outside picnics and barbeques – but, beware: don’t allow uninvited guests to your picnic table. These guests could include bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins, resulting in food poisoning.

Food poisoning is caused by eating spoiled or contaminated food. Contamination can occur if food is incorrectly handled or cooked. The most common symptoms of food poisoning include upset stomach, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. Symptoms may range from mild to severe. Severe cases of food poisoning may cause long-term health problems or death. Food poisoning can take anywhere from two hours to several days to make you sick. It can last up to 10 days.

The CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans get sick from food poisoning. America’s poison centers play an important role in helping to prevent food poisoning by promoting safe food preparation and storage tips, as well as helping callers who think that they have symptoms of food poisoning or may be at risk. Between 2014 and 2015, U.S. poison centers managed almost 60,000 food poisoning exposure cases and over 30,000 information calls on food poisoning and food recalls.

The most common foods associated with food poisoning include raw meat and poultry, raw eggs, raw shellfish and unpasteurized milk.

What should I do if I think I have food poisoning?

If you think you have food poisoning, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511.

If you are vomiting or have diarrhea drink plenty of water.

How can I prevent food poisoning?

DO:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before and after touching food
  • Wash dishes, knives, cutting boards and other kitchen items before and after handling raw food
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly
  • Keep raw meat separate from other food
  • Cook meat, poultry and fish thoroughly
  • Use a food thermometer to check if meat is fully cooked to kill harmful germs
  • Put leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours after cooking, one hour if above 90 degrees
  • Keep hot food hot and cold food cold
  • Use the refrigerator, microwave or cold water to defrost meats and poultry and cook as soon as thawed

DO NOT:

  • Use marinade from raw meat on cooked meat
  • Put cooked meat back onto a plate that held raw meat unless it’s been cleaned well
  • Thaw or marinate frozen meat or poultry on counter

For more prevention tips visit http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/groups/consumers.html and http://www.nnepc.org/poisons/f/food-poisoning

Gayle Finkelstein, MS, is Poison Prevention Educator with the Northern New England Poison Center.

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