Eat, drink and be healthy

As you enjoy your fall picnics, be sure your food and drink are safe. Photo: Cindy Arnold

It’s late summer and our thoughts turn toward Labor Day, cooler weather and perhaps enjoying the fall days with a picnic. Here are some food safety tips that are good for any time of year.

Cloth grocery bags, though earth-friendly, may harbor some health risks if not taken care of properly. Two years ago, a mystery illness later discovered to be Norovirus sickened an Oregon soccer team. The link was a cloth grocery bag that unfortunately served as a transport medium for the virus. A combined University of Arizona and Loma Linda investigation demonstrated both viruses and bacteria can thrive on used cloth grocery bags. (Disclosure: There was American Chemistry Council funding behind this later study.) The study’s take-home points are worthwhile:

  • Have dedicated bags, one for items like meat and others for fruits and vegetables.
  • Launder or wipe down the bag regularly.
  • Don’t let your grocery bag double as your book or gym bag.
  • Don’t leave your grocery bags in the trunk of your car in the summer. They make great incubators there, even when the bags are empty.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has collected some of the latest wisdom on food safety and made it available. Here is some of the department’s advice:

  • Shop for non-perishables first and frozen goods last.
  • Wrap perishable foods securely.
  • Sanitize countertops, cutting boards and utensils.

Also be aware of ways to prevent against salmonella, which is present in many foods. According to the Center For Disease Control, “Although foodborne infections have decreased by nearly one-fourth in the past 15 years, more than 1 million people in this country become ill from Salmonella each year, and Salmonella accounts for about half of the hospitalizations and deaths among the nine foodborne illnesses CDC tracks through FoodNet.”

Eggs are a good source of nutrition. Unfortunately, they can also be a source of salmonella, so effective storage and preparation are key to preventing illness:

  • Fresh eggs in the shell can be refrigerated for three to five weeks. Do not freeze them.
  • Raw yolks and whites can be refrigerated for two to four days. They can be stored in a freezer for up to one year.
  • Hard-cooked eggs can be refrigerated for up to one week. They do not freeze well.

The USDA site offers good advice for many other food categories.

By keeping food safety in mind from the market to the picnic table, you can enjoy outings with family and friends.

Brian Svazas, M.D., M.P.H.