At the holiday party – look skeptically at the platters of food before you and think — bugs. Not flies– but bacteria. There is nothing worse that having the holiday season ruined by eating something that was not prepared properly.
Every year over 75 million Americans develop some form of food poisoning- over 300,000 of them are hospitalized and at least 5,000 people die from food borne bacteria.
You cannot protect yourself against the way the food was prepared. If you are preparing the food there are a few tips for you:
(a) Do not cross contaminate your foods. If you use a knife or a cutting board for raw meats or chicken, or vegetables- wash it completely before you use it again. Do not put cooked meat back on the cutting board you used when it was raw.
(b) Wash your hands after you handle raw meat, or raw chicken (or other poultry like turkey, duck, or geese). Consider the raw meats to be contaminated with bacteria- and you must wash countertops, utensils, and all surfaces those foods touch or they will contaminate other foods. The bacteria on those meats, poultries, and fish can be deadly. So wash carefully after you handle them. Do not forget to wipe down the handles of the sinks after you have washed your hands.
(c) Wash produce in running water. Get rid of the dirt, and throw out the outer layers of the food. Once you have washed the outside of the fruits and vegetables- then place them on a clean cutting board and use a clean knife to cut them. Consider the outside of all fruits and vegetables to be contaminated with bacteria.
(c) Cook your meats completely. Egg yolks should be firm, not runny- as they can harbor bacteria. Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
When cooking- the ability to be careful with preparing foods is essential. It is impossible to know how foods are prepared from someone else’s kitchen.
Here are a few things to watch out for:
Unpasteurized juices. Pasteurization (after the famous French scientist) heats the juice to kill bacteria. Some health food stores will try to say that there are more vitamins in the non-pasteurized form of the juice — but there are also bacteria. In fact, it was a large outbreak of E.coli from these juices that led to the recommendation that pregnant women should avoid unpasteurized juices altogether.
Salads are the enemy in most holiday buffets. There is no good way to protect yourself if you choose to eat salads. Many of the latest food borne illness have come from salads– spinach, tomatoes, peppers, or lettuce. Often the salads are coming in a ready/ pre-mix bag – so there is no easy or practical way to wash them. Home grown are always the best – but if you are going out- think of the salad bar or the vegetable table as a place to avoid – unless they are cooked.
Fruits and Vegetables
Most of the recent outbreaks of food borne illness have occurred with fruits and vegetables that were washed in unsanitary conditions. Sprouts are a particular concern. Eating fruits and vegetables raw can lead to food poisoning. While many people think that eating raw fruits and vegetables has more vitamins and minerals– just the opposite is true. For humans, cooking the fruits and vegetables allows the human body to get at the vitamins and minerals. Raw has less bio-available vitamins and minerals than cooked– and cooked is safer.
Undercooked meats can harbor bacteria. Hamburger cooked to less than 160 degrees (brown center) can harbor E. coli, or other bacteria. The same with almost any meat or poultry.
Restaurants have periodic inspections – so check out the health food score of your favorite places to eat. Often these are published on the internet- if not, ask the local health department for their latest scores. Simple hygiene at restaurants can prevent many problems.
Pasteurization of milk dramatically decreased the problems of food borne illness in milk and new methods are on the horizon. In shell pasteurization of eggs, and irradiation of meat will diminish food borne illness. There is still no substitute for good hygiene and no substitution for cooking.
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.