Saturday, October 10, 2009

Poisoning People at your Potluck

I woke up last week with a fever and headache. I had no energy and had to drag myself out of bed to walk my dog. I had food poisoning. Although these are not the most common symptoms, cramps, vomiting and diarrhea are, I knew why I was suffering.

The culprits were at the party I went to the night before; bacteria were having their party in the potluck food that was left out for the four hours I was there. Not only that; I should have wondered how long the food had been out before I arrived and how long before that these dishes were prepared. To make things worse, friends of the hosts were very helpful, using unwashed hands to move food to platters. Who rushes to wash their hands when the host asks you to refill platters?

Like most food poisoning cases, my case went unreported. In fact, 96 - 99% go unreported. My symptoms cleared up overnight but incapacitated me for one day. I was lucky. For i nfants, young children, senior citizens and people with weakened immune systems (AIDS, cancer, diabetes, liver or kidney diseases), the symptoms can be more dangerous.

Have you suffered from food poisoning lately? Do you have a potluck dinner coming up? Maybe you should take safety measures so your guests don’t end up discussing their food poisoning experiences behind your back.

Food Safety Rules for your Potluck Party
Before the party, clean out your fridge and oven and sanitize countertops, cutting boards and utensils with a mild bleach and water solution.

Instead of telling guests to bring “anything,” plan the meal according to your guest list.
* Determine the distance each guest has to travel.
* Ask those guests who travel the furthest to bring non-perishables such as rolls, breads and cookies.
* Those traveling half an hour or less can bring perishable foods containing meat, poultry, seafood or dairy products. * HOWEVER, ask them to keep HOT foods hot by wrapping them in foil, and then in heavy towels. Or, carry them in containers designed to keep food hot. Bacteria love room temperature and will seize this opportunity to duplicate rapidly.
* If your guests are bringing COLD foods, ask them to place containers in a cooler with ice or freezer packs so they remain at 40o F or lower. Refrigerating or freezing slows the growth of these nasty miniature bugs.
* If foods won’t be eaten for two hours, keep refrigerated or frozen. Make sure the refrigerator is set at a temperature of 40°F or colder, and keep the freezer set at 0°F.
* If your guests want to prepare the food after they arrive, show them where the soap and paper towels are, so they know you expect them to wash their hands before handling food. Set a good example by washing your hands, utensils and cooking surfaces with soap and hot water before you handle food, while you prepare it, and again when you've finished.
* Nearby guests are a better choice for providing salads, relishes and vegetables, which should be refrigerated immediately. For unprepared produce, show your guests where they can wash fruits and vegetables under cool running water.

Your duties: As the host, when the guests arrive be ready with clean hands to:
* Place cold foods in the refrigerator.
* Place hot foods that are going to be eaten immediately, in an oven hot enough to keep the food at an internal temperature of 140o F or above.
* For hot foods that will be eaten later, don't let them linger at room temperature. Refrigerate. Remember the danger zone is between 40°F and 140°F.
* Keep separate cutting boards for raw meats and vegetables.
* Always keep foods covered.
* Remember the 2-hour rule:
* Don’t put perishable foods out for longer than 2 hours.
* If the foods were prepared 2 hours before, be sure to heat them until hot and steamy to kill nasty bugs that are lurking.

Graham Kerr, a well-known television personality, chef and author, spoke at The American Dietetic Association’s conference on his food safety experiences. ConAgra Foods Home Food Safety program sponsored the talk. “No one wants to get sick, so it’s important to take extra precautions when preparing, cooking, serving and storing food.”

If we follow the above rules, we will enjoy our meals and our guests will leave with happy memories.