Food Poisoning During Summer Months

Each year an estimated one in six people living in the United States develop foodborne illnesses, such as food poisoning.  The illness occurs when an individual consumes food that is contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasites.

The chances of getting food poisoning are higher during the summer months as the warmer weather promotes the growth of these organisms and increases the likelihood for contamination to occur.

According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service, “Foodborne bacteria grow fastest at temperatures between 90 to 110 °F (32 to 43°C.)” In higher temperatures, food will produce the nutrients and moisture needed for pathogens (virus, bacteria and other microorganisms that cause disease) to flourish.  Some of the most common pathogens that cause food poisoning are Salmonella, Listeria, Toxoplasma, E. coli and norovirus.

In addition to warmer temperatures, summer provides us with more opportunities to cook outdoors. It is difficult to utilize food safety controls such as refrigeration, thermostat-controlled cooking and convenient facilities to wash our hands when cooking outside. These factors can further increase the risk of food contamination.

Food poisoning is preventable and there are several safety measures that can be exercised to reduce the risk of exposure. Dr. Asit Mehta, Gastrointestinal Specialist at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center shares the following tips to prevent contamination:

  • Clean hands and food preparation stations often– It is important to wash your hands. Unclean hands can spread germs and cause foodborne illness. It is equally as important to keep the areas where you prepare food clean; germs can thrive on hard surfaces as well.
  • Cook food at proper temperatures- The USDA recommends that you cook the following meats and poultry until they reach these internal temperatures:

Poultry (whole, pieces & ground): 165 °F /74 °C

Ground meats: 160 °F /71 °C

Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts & chops): 145 °F /63 °C

  • Keep raw and cooked foods separate- Avoid cross contamination of food by wrapping raw meats and poultry separately during storage. Keep them away from other foods in coolers or similar storage devices. Do not place cooked meats on plates or other utensils that previously contained raw meat; unless they have been properly cleaned with soap and hot water.
  • Refrigerate perishables and leftovers promptly- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that, “Germs can grow in many foods within 2 hours unless you refrigerate them. (During the summer heat, cut that time down to 1 hour.)”
  • Clean produce- Before cutting, preparing and serving produce, it is important to wash them.

Food poisoning is characterized by symptoms that include diarrhea, vomiting, fever, abdominal cramps and nausea. Symptoms may take a few hours or days to present.  These symptoms typically run their course and go away on their own.  Your doctor will recommend that you keep hydrated, and may suggest that along with water, drink clear broths and non-caffeinated sport drinks.  Getting plenty of rest and avoiding foods that contain dairy, alcohol, caffeine, high concentration of fats and seasoning may also be recommended.  Before taking over the counter medications such as anti-diarrhea medicine, consult your doctor first.

Dr. Mehta advises, “If severe symptoms such as the following persist, see your physician right away”:

  • Blood in vomit or stool
  • Diarrhea for more than three days
  • Frequent vomiting and the inability to keep liquids down
  • Signs of dehydration, such as lightheadedness, dizziness, excessive thirst, severe abdominal cramps,  weak or no urination and dry mouth
  • Neurological symptoms such as tingling in the arms, blurry vision and weakness in muscles
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fever over 101.5 F

“Food poisoning can be very dangerous for the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems. Do not take symptoms lightly in these individuals and seek treatment immediately,” warns Dr. Mehta.

Gastroenterologists specialize in the treatment of gastrointestinal, liver, and pancreatic disorders, including colorectal cancer screenings. Jamaica Hospital Medical Center’s Division of Gastroenterology consists of Board-Certified gastroenterologists who provide high quality and expert care to patients who suffer from such conditions in both inpatient and outpatient settings. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Mehta or any our gastroenterologists, please call 718-206-7001.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.