Every week food poisoning will hit some ten thousand Ontarians for the remainder of this holiday summer. Most of these attacks are entirely avoidable by following a few basic hygiene rules and since the majority of these infections originate with back yard barbecue malpractices, the sicknesses shouldn’t be occurring at all. There are several common bacterial and viral sources bearing such exotic names as Campylobacter, Escherichia, Salmonella and Norovirus. For the backyard barbecuing aficionado, Campylobacter is likely the commonest contaminant being found in most meats especially chicken. Although symptoms are short-lived and mild in most cases, there is a strain that can involve bloody diarrhea, intense cramping, and dehydration. In the past, the headline grabber has been a coliform called E-coli 0157-H7 with the potential to cause extreme dehydration and even potentially fatal kidney shutdown; though most infections result in mild symptoms and an inconvenient few days at home.

There is one common denominator when feeding people from the barbecue. All uncooked meat is a potential source of contamination. All outdoor food preparation should involve a two plate system. One plate for the uncooked meat before the BBQ and a second dry plate after proper cooking. Never mix the two. It may be trendy to undercook meat to the point your guests wonder if there’s an artery still pumping in there but any meat undercooked below 160 -175 degrees Fahrenheit puts your partiers at risk. The second rule of backyard hygiene is a mandatory hand washing every time raw meat is handled. Waving your palms under a dripping garden hose does not qualify. Pretend you’re scrubbing for your mother’s open heart surgery. Similar practices should prevail with all produce. Never be satisfied with the supermarket claim that it’s all prewashed for you. We are seeing more and more Listeria as one example because of the current farming practices fertilizing with liquid livestock waste. We are hearing more frequent reports of infections with Noroviruses that are able to live on stainless steel and other inert surfaces for prolonged periods of several days and are now even showing resistance to standard chlorinated cleaners. These were the cruise ship curses of the past few years–all traceable to inadequate hand washing by food handlers.

Second to the traditional barbecue in terms of total number of instances of food poisoning is the park or lakeside campout. The notion that the bubbling fast flowing hillside stream is a pristine source of drinking water is factually inaccurate. Just what do you think those bears actually do in those woods?  The same contaminants are derived from domestic feedlots and septic systems in farm and cottage country.

On a happier note, very few of these gastrointestinal disturbances are severe or prolonged. Normally, a common sense self treatment consisting of diet restriction for 72 hours , increased fluid intake, especially electrolyte, will bring about recovery and emergency room visits can be avoided. Rarely are antibiotics needed. Obviously fever and protracted vomiting or bloody diarrhea does need a trip to the doctor. Keep that meat thermometer handy, wash your hands diligently and enjoy the very best part of the summer.

Written by: Dr. David Carll

Providing a fresh perspective for Hamilton and Burlington

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