Keep Food Poisoning off Summer Menu

Don't Forget Food Safety at Summer Food Festivals, Family Reunions

By Miranda Hitti
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario, MD

July 13, 2007 -- Food poisoning sent at least 10 people to the hospital and sickened more than 100 others at this year's Taste of Chicago food festival.

All of those people ate at the Pars Cove Persian Cuisine booth at the Taste of Chicago festival, which was held in Chicago from June 29 to July 2.

At least nine festival-goers who ate at that booth were infected with salmonella, which are bacteria that typically cause fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea, which may be bloody.

Most people recover from salmonella infection within a week. But some cases may be severe and even life-threatening. Babies, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems are more likely to experience severe illness from salmonella infection.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that tahini -- a sesame seed paste used to make hummus -- may be linked to the salmonella outbreak. The restaurant's owners say their facility is clean and that they practice food safety.

However, food poisoning doesn't just happen at restaurants. Home cooking can also harbor health hazards -- even at family reunions, as a new CDC report points out.

Family Reunion Food Poisoning

Talk about a family reunion gone wrong -- so wrong that it's featured in this week's edition of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The family reunion, held last October in West Virginia, included 53 relatives from Florida, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

More than half of the attendees came down with diarrhea or vomiting, and six of them sought medical care for their symptoms.

Four other people who weren't at the reunion but live with reunion attendees also got sick.

A norovirus outbreak linked to the family reunion caused the illnesses. Noroviruses are America's leading cause of upset stomachs, according to the CDC.

After interviewing 48 reunion attendees, health officials zeroed in on three menu items that appeared to be related to the outbreak. Those three foods were chicken, scalloped potatoes, and a chocolate cheese ball.

The CDC, which hasn't named the family in question, doesn't mention whether those foods were all made by the same person, whether the foods weren't stored safely, or whether people were passing food around without having washed their hands first.

Food Safety Tips

Even if you're not going to a food festival or family reunion this summer, it never hurts to brush up on your food safety know-how.

Basically, it boils down to four steps:

  • Clean your hands, cooking surfaces, countertops, and utensils in hot, soapy water before and after preparing each food item. Rinse produce in running water.
  • Separate raw meat from cooked foods. Clean plates, utensils, and cutting boards that have touched raw meat.
  • Cook foods thoroughly. Use a (clean!) cooking thermometer to make sure meat and poultry is done.
  • Refrigerate meat or poultry as it defrosts; don't let it thaw on the countertop. Store foods promptly; don't let them linger on the table.

SOURCES: Associated Press. Chicago Sun-Times, "Was the Hummus Bad?" July 13, 2007. CDC: "Salmonellosis." CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, July 13, 2007; vol 56: pp 673-678. WebMD Feature: "Food Safety Tips for Warm Weather."

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