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Thoughts on Food Safety



by Susan Fekety, RN, MSN, CNM



This is ghastly. Summer FINALLY shows up – and all I can think about is that our vivacious warm-weather lifestyle is a setup for food poisoning. Yup, it’s gastroenteritis awareness week here at the Switch. It even happened to me!

Years ago I maybe could have gotten away with ignoring my hunch that the bigger pieces of chicken should’ve stayed on the grill a touch longer. But hey, I was tired of cooking and it was starting to rain. Most of us have done this, probably more than once. I used a clean platter for the cooked pieces, so they wouldn’t get raw juice on them; leftovers went promptly into the fridge.*

So, evidently my chicken pieces were not okay. Reheated for lunch the next day (you know that after four days you should pitch any leftovers, right?), they tasted terrific, but -- well, let me just say that I remain in awe of my body’s ability to identify and eject offenders. Man, I was sick. And of course I felt like a total jerk. Thank goodness the only victim was me.

Awareness that 5,000 people a year actually die from food-borne illness troubled me during the more exuberant periods of my own discomfort. I turned the security system off that night, in case EMTs had to rescue me. Epidemiologists estimate that for every case of food-borne illness they hear about, 10 to 50 people succumb and recover without treatment: statistically invisible, but everyone knows we’re there, limp and sweaty on the bathroom floor.

Technically, I ought not necessarily implicate the chicken; the perp could have been anything I’d consumed in the past couple days. The gag reflex I get when I think about it, however, suggests that my exquisitely-evolved body wants to educate me about what not to eat again. I choose to listen.

The personal is indeed political; food poisoning like mine is increasingly prevalent because of the way our food is produced and then tended at home. Contaminated vegetable incidents have triggered an unwelcome sense of vulnerability even in people who disdain meats, seafood, and mayonnaise. The food industry’s solution is irradiation -- oh, surely we can do better than that!

Please don’t fantasize that because you’re a dedicated organic locavore you don’t need to worry about crap in your greens or poop on your poultry. If you eat out, go to parties, or shop at a supermarket, sadly, gastroenteritis could happen to you. Please be responsive when your inner food inspector taps you on the shoulder; those safe handling and preparation instructions -- um, they are not making this up. Throw caution to the wind in some other personal endeavor, like romance or art -- THAT’S what summer is really for!

*After two hours, you should pitch any un-refrigerated perishables; if it’s hot out (like, 90F) you get ONE hour to leave your need-to-chill items unprotected. (8-minute picnic, anyone?)




Article © Copyright 2009 by Susan Fekety. All rights reserved worldwide. Duplication or reprints only with express permission of the author or, for a nonprofit purpose, without consent so long as the author's name and contact information are included as follows: "Reproduced with permission from Susan Fekety," These articles are provided for informational purposes only. Their content is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own health care professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem promptly contact your health care provider.




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