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.

One in six Americans could get sick from food poisoning this year. Before you set out for your next picnic or barbecue, be aware of potential food-related poisonings. During the summer months, foodborne illnesses are on the rise. Bacteria and viruses are the most common cause of food poisoning.

Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating spoiled or contaminated food. The symptoms and severity of food poisoning depend on which germ has contaminated the food.

You may not always be able to tell by looking at or smelling the food that is has spoiled.

What are the symptoms of food poisoning?

Food poisoning can take anywhere from two hours to several days to make you sick. It can last up to ten days. Pregnant women, infants, the elderly, or those with a serious medical condition or a weakened immune system are more at risk of getting a foodborne illness and their illness may last longer or they may need to go to the hospital.

Possible symptoms could include:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal cramps

Careful preparation and storage is important to prevent food poisoning. Here are some suggestions to stay safe this summer.Safe-Cooking-Temperatures-MG

  1. Wash hands, cutting boards, utensils, and countertops. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Don’t reuse platters or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
  2. Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from other foods.
  3. Cook meat, poultry and fish thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to make sure that foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature: View the safe cooking temperature table below. Keep hot foods safe at or above 140° F.
  4. Cold food needs to be stored at 40 degrees F or below either in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs or refrigerator so your food will not spoil. Limit the number of times you open your cooler outside to keep food cold longer.

Other useful tips include:

  • Organize cooler contents. Pack your drinks in one cooler and foods that can spoil in another cooler. Wrap and place cooked foods in an insulated container.
  • Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood wrapped tightly.
  • Thaw foods in the refrigerator or cook them while still frozen.
  • Put food away within two hours, or one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90° F. Otherwise throw it away. Don’t leave food out in the sun.

What can you do if you think you have food poisoning? Usually, you feel better in a day or two. It is very important to drink plenty of fluids so that you don’t become dehydrated, especially if you are vomiting or have diarrhea.

For questions and advice on how to stay safe, call the Northern New England Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. Call your health care provider if symptoms continue or if they become severe.

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

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