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Simply Entertaining: Don't invite bacteria to your party

Thursday, July 12, 2001

By Mary Miller

Will you be having some uninvited guests at that summer soiree you're planning for next weekend? No, not old boyfriends and grumpy neighbors, but unwanted invaders like the E. coli gang, or the quickly multiplying salmonella pals?

Never heard of them? Well, if you're not careful, these food-friendly bacteria just might be making a stop at your house.

Yes, my years teaching food safety to dietetics students have pushed me over the edge. Seriously though, the one memory you don't want your guests to have is of sudden gastrointestinal distress on the way home from your party. I write only from experience, you know.

Whether we know it or not, most of us have been victims of food poisoning. Often it's the source of those pesky abdominal symptoms that usually arise within 2 to 48 hours after a meal. Most of the time, we attribute the illness to a virus or the flu, but I know better.

What you can't see, smell or taste can hurt you. Most people do not serve spoiled food on purpose. As far as I know, I have been twice guilty, both times with my own family. Once from chicken that sat for way too long in a hot car. It looked fine, didn't smell bad and tasted great. The second time from serving a long-expired hot dog to my daughter. OK, it did smell a little nasty. No one's perfect.

We think of food poisoning during the warm summer months, although it can occur at any time. Mayonnaise is often labeled as the culprit and foods such as macaroni salad and potato salad as the carriers. Actually, today's pasteurized mayo has a high acid content, and high-acid foods inhibit bacterial growth. It is the low-acid fillings such as tuna, ham, chicken, potatoes or eggs that can serve as breeding grounds for bacteria.

There are three ways to curb food-related illness -- proper food storage, food handling and cooking.

Bacteria grow fastest between 40 and 140 degrees. Storing food at the proper temperature is crucial. Refrigerators should be at 41 degrees or less. A cold environment does not kill bacteria -- it just keeps them from multiplying. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, two hours is the maximum time to leave foods unrefrigerated.

Items such as chips, peanut butter, jelly, pickles, mustard, hard cheese, fruits and vegetables don't need to be kept cold.

The key is to keep hot things hot and cold things cold. At home, keep food refrigerated until ready to use. When picnicking, fill your cooler to the top with ice or freezer packs. Pack the cooler in order of use -- things you need first on the top, foods needed last on the bottom.

One of the most important tips for getting rid of germs is to wash, wash, wash. Your hands, that is. Clean hands will eliminate the majority of germs that can invade your food.

Do not allow raw meat, poultry or fish to come in contact with other foods. Most of us know this, but a reminder can't hurt.

Another important source of bacteria are used dishcloths and sponges. Kitchen cloths should be washed or replaced daily.

Do not partially cook foods and then leave them at room temperature to finish later in the day. Refrigerate them until you're ready to finish the meal. Cook all meat and fish to 160 degrees and poultry to 180 degrees to kill bacteria.


The acid from the mustard will help keep this tasty salad germ-free at your next picnic.

2 1/2 cups halved young green beans, steamed
2 1/2 cups canned garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2 1/2 cups canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained
3 tomatoes, diced
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup snipped chives

In a large bowl, mix the beans and tomatoes.

In a blender, combine the oil, mustard, water, basil, honey and pepper. Process for 1 minute. Pour over the salad. Sprinkle with the chives. Toss well. Serves 8.

Prevention magazine

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