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GBMC doctor talks about food safety for the Fourth of July

With the Fourth of July approaching, many people are contemplating cookouts and picnics. But all that celebratory food and drink can pose a threat to your health. There are steps to take to ensure there aren't any unwelcome fireworks in your belly, according to Dr. Niraj Jani, division chief in gastroenterology at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

What is the appropriate time that meat/poultry should be cooked to prevent illness?

The cooking time depends on the type, cut of meat and the method of cooking used. Beef should be cooked 18-25 minutes in the oven, 10 minutes on the grill and 10 minutes if frying. Pork should be cooked 20-45 minutes in the oven, 12-40 minutes on the grill. Poultry should be cooked 30-40 minutes in the oven, 10-15 minutes if grilling, and 10-15 minutes if frying.

How much alcohol is safe to drink in the sun?

Alcohol causes dehydration, which can lead to heat exhaustion manifested by increased body temperature, dizziness or loss of consciousness. At worst, this can proceed to heatstroke. Although there is no defined amount on how much alcohol is safe to drink in the sun, for each alcoholic beverage consumed, an equal amount of water, juice or sports drink should be consumed to maintain hydration.

What is the risk of the E. coli outbreak in the United States, given the outbreak in Germany?

First, the source for the E. coli outbreak needs to be determined. Once this is discovered, all fruits and vegetables that are exported to the United States from Germany need to be carefully inspected and tested to make sure that bacterial contamination with E. coli is not present. Overall, U.S. outbreaks of the best-known E. coli strain, O157:H7, have dropped over 50 percent in the last 15 years due to careful monitoring and reporting.

What causes gastrointestinal upset when someone eats contaminated food?

Gastrointestinal upset can present with abdominal cramping, diarrhea, fevers, headaches, nausea, vomiting and weakness. Symptoms occur two to six hours after consumption. Commonly this is referred to as food poisoning. It occurs when food or water becomes contaminated by bacteria, parasites, viruses or toxins. The most common organisms include botulinum, campylobacter, cholera, E. coli, staphylococcus, salmonella or shigella. The most common source is undercooked meat and eggs, raw vegetables that are not carefully washed or frozen/refrigerated foods/dairy that have been out too long or are not stored at the correct temperature. Another source for possible contamination is using dirty utensils or poor food handling resulting from not properly washing hands.

How long is it safe to leave food out in the sun? What are other safe tips for cookouts?

The exact time food can be left out in the sun is determined by what temperature the food should be stored at. Bacteria multiply between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit, so beef should be cooked to 160 degrees or until the center is no longer pink and poultry should be cooked to 165-180 degrees. When perishable or refrigerated food is not being consumed, keep it cool and covered. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Wash hands thoroughly when preparing food and keep cooking utensils clean.

If you get an upset stomach, what should you take? Do you have to see a doctor?

If symptoms are mild, simple antacids or anti-gas medications may alleviate symptoms. If you develop profuse diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, make sure you hydrate well with water or rehydration solutions like Gatorade. Avoid solid foods and lactose products until the diarrhea has resolved. If you are not able to tolerate anything orally, IV hydration may be required. Symptoms should resolve in 12-48 hours. Antibiotics are not necessary. Do not take anti-diarrhea medications until a physician has been consulted. Call your doctor if you develop black stool, stomach pain, high-grade fever or serious dehydration.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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