Oysters should be off the menu and be careful with picnics. That is, at least, if you want to avoid food poisoning.
for a microphoneThe Robiologist has shared her essential guide on the dos and don’ts to prevent you from suffering from crippling stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Dr Primrose Freestone, a senior lecturer at the University of Leicester, says she avoids eating in certain settings (such as barbecues and picnics) and never asks for a bag to store leftovers in restaurants.
Despite being seemingly harmless activities, they increase the risk of getting sick from poorly prepared food, which can be fatal in serious cases.
These are the tips he shared with The conversation.
Dr Primrose Freestone, a senior lecturer at the University of Leicester, says she avoids eating in certain settings, such as barbecues and picnics, and never asks for a bag to store leftovers in restaurants.
Avoid barbecues and picnics
Moving mealtimes outdoors for picnics and barbecues is a summer highlight for millions of us.
But Dr Freestone warned that the risk of food poisoning skyrockets as soon as food is taken outdoors due to dirty hands, germ-ridden bugs and the temperature. He said he “rarely” eats outdoors.
Washing your hands before touching food is vital to avoid getting sick, but there are rarely facilities to do so when eating outdoors, he said.
While hand sanitizers are better than nothing, they don’t always kill germs hiding in food, according to Dr. Freestone.
Additionally, flies, wasps and ants are abundant and often swarm when eating food outdoors, which can spread E coli, salmonella and listeria, he noted.
What is food poisoning?
Food poisoning occurs when you eat something that has been contaminated with germs.
The key symptoms are malaise, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps and fever.
They usually begin within a few days of eating the food that caused the infection.
Most cases can be treated at home by drinking plenty of fluids and symptoms usually disappear within a week.
Food poisoning occurs from not cooking or reheating food thoroughly, not storing it properly, leaving it out for too long, or eating food after its expiration date.
Controlling the temperature of food outdoors poses another challenge, as hot weather encourages germ growth, Dr. Freestone said.
Cooking food thoroughly on a barbecue can also be difficult, as it increases the risk of consuming bacteria that cause food poisoning.
Be careful with buffets
Filling your plate with a variety of food while at an all-inclusive restaurant, hotel, or vacation buffet may seem like a dream.
But this is not without risks, warns Dr. Freestone.
Trays of fruit, meat and eggs are exposed to the elements, and insects, dust and other contaminants (touching, coughing or sneezing) pose a contamination risk.
While perishable foods such as seafood, salads, and desserts are safe to eat for two hours once taken out of the refrigerator, it’s difficult to know how long buffet food has been on display.
And warm rather than hot foods, rated at 60°C (140°F), are a breeding ground for bacteria that cause food poisoning.
Dr. Freestone recommended sticking to eating toast at any buffet that doesn’t meet these criteria, or being first in line at the buffet and watching the clock to see how often perishable foods are replaced.
Don’t eat seafood
Despite being popular, raw seafood, such as oysters, mussels and cockles, can be a vehicle for disease.
Even if they don’t look or smell bad, they can be full of germs, such as vibrio bacteria, which cause illness and diarrhea, according to Dr. Freestone, who said she would “never” eat raw seafood.
Oysters can also contain norovirus, transmitted by human sewage that enters the areas where they are grown, making them a vehicle for disease.
Consuming raw seafood in any form poses a risk of food poisoning, Dr. Freestone warned.
Around 14,000 people in the UK and 80,000 in the US become ill from eating shellfish, with oysters being the main culprit.
However, health chiefs point out that with 13 million oysters served in the UK each year, the risk of getting sick is relatively low.
Avoid bagged salad
Ready-to-eat bags of lettuce, spinach and arugula are a refrigerator staple for many.
But they’re another no-no for Dr. Freestone. They can also contain E. coli, salmonella and listeria, which grow 1,000 times better when packaged in a bag with salad leaf juices, he warned.
Outbreaks of food poisoning have been traced to bags of arugula.
And studies suggest that keeping salad in bags helps bacteria mutate and become more infectious.
However, Dr. Freestone noted that the risk is small for most, as long as bags of salad are refrigerated, washed well, and consumed soon after being purchased.
Reconsider your culinary habits
Most people may think they know cooking.
But they may not meet Dr. Freestone’s list of dos and don’ts to avoid food poisoning.
Washing your hands before and after handling food is essential, as is using different cutting boards for raw and cooked foods, he says.
And while preserving leftovers is a good way to reduce food waste, Dr. Freestone advises against saving cooked rice to reheat the next day.
This is because raw rice can be contaminated with Bacillus cereus, which causes food poisoning.
The bacteria die when the rice is cooked, but its spores survive, allowing the bacteria to grow again as the rice cools to room temperature and then is reheated.
Dr. Freestone also recommends not always relying on expiration dates.
If a label suggests a food is safe to eat for a few more days, she would throw it out if it looked or smelled different than expected or if the packaging seemed swollen, a telltale sign that bacteria had grown in the food.
Don’t order a doggy bag
After enjoying a meal at a restaurant, it can be tempting to order leftovers to enjoy later.
But doing so could pose another risk of food poisoning, warns Dr. Freestone.
Because they have typically exceeded the two-hour limit for refrigerating food after cooking, making it unsafe to eat.
He wrote: “I never pick up “doggy bags” with leftover food (they have usually exceeded the two-hour limit), even if they are actually intended for a pet.”