Food poisoning episodes are something we remember.
Unfortunately, my most memorable event was my own fault. I bought fresh kidney beans at a market in Malawi. Returning to my home, I left them in a plastic bag out in the sun. The next day, the humidity and condensation had caused the beans to sprout. Having eaten many other “bean sprouts” in the past, I decided to give them a try.
Their flavour was not memorable, but their effect was – that evening, every food I had eaten in the last seven days was expelled from my body.
Later, research led me to discover that kidney bean sprouts contain a toxin called lectin. My food-borne illness was likely caused by the toxic substance in the bean itself, rather than the way I had stored the food.
In Canada, it is estimated that there are about four million cases of food-borne illness every year.
With summer here, picnics and barbecues provide ideal opportunities. Warm environments are the preferred breeding place for most microorganisms, and in food safety, we refer to temperatures between five and 60 degrees Celsius “the Danger Zone.” These are the temperatures where bacteria can multiply most readily. Luckily, most foodborne illness can be prevented by taking measures to prepare and store your food safely. This summer when you are handling food, keep the following tips in mind, to decrease your chance of getting sick:
• Wash your hands – hands provide an easy way for micro-organisms to travel from one place to another.
• Separate raw foods from cooked foods. Use separate cutting boards and knives for handling raw foods.
• Cook thoroughly – make sure the juices of poultry and meat run clear, not pink. Heat soups and stews to 70C (almost boiling).
• Keep foods at safe temperatures – hot food should stay hot and cold food cold. Do not keep cooked food at room temperature for more than two hours. Hold food below 5C (refrigerator temperature) or above 60 degrees (a low simmer).
• Use safe water and raw materials. Wash raw fruits and vegetables and do not use food beyond its expiry date.
•. Be careful sprouting your own beans! Many beans are toxic when sprouted.
-Serena Caner is a registered dietician who works at Shuswap Lake General Hospital.