We know reusable shopping bags are getting more popular, and if plastic bags are banned we’ll doubtless see more reusable bags in use (along with paper bags, but that’s another issue).
The trick with reusable bags, however, is to keep them clean.
Using the reusable bags for raw meat, poultry and fish may increase the risk of food poisoning. Re-usable bags can pick up bacteria from these foods, which can then be transferred to other foods or non-food items.
Getting sick from contaminated food is a nightmare. As the old saying goes, first you’re afraid you’re going to die, then you’re afraid you won’t. It’s awful, with vomiting, nausea, severe diarrhea, cramps, fever, chills: it’s like the gods are punishing you personally. And, of course, it can be fatal.
As long as we are talking about the subject, it might pay to review the types of food poisoning risks*:
Source: Spread when contaminated food (meat, poultry, eggs) is eaten raw or undercooked. Also, when cooked food comes in contact with contaminated raw food, or when an infected person prepares food.
Symptoms (after eating): Onset: 6-48 hours; nausea, fever, headache, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting lasting 2-7 days. Can be fatal to infants, the elderly, the infirm, and the immune-compromised.
Prevention: Separate raw foods from cooked foods. Thoroughly cook meat, poultry, and eggs. Consume only pasteurized milk, dairy products, and egg nog. Don’t leave food at room temperature over 2 hours. Refrigerate below 40 degrees F.
Source: Carried by people on skin, in boils, pimples, and throat infections; spread when carriers handle food. Staph bacteria produce toxins (poisons) at warm temperatures. Meat, poultry, salads, cheese, eggs, custards, and cream-filled desserts are susceptible foods.
Symptoms (after eating): Onset: 1-8 hours; vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal cramps lasting 1-2 days. Rarely fatal.
Prevention: Cooking won’t destroy staph poison, so practice good personal hygiene and sanitary food handling. Don’t leave perishable food unrefrigerated over 2 hours. For quick cooling, place hot food in small containers no more than 4 inches deep; cover when cool and refrigerate.
Source: Most common in low acid foods canned improperly at home. The presence of these bacteria or their poisons is sometimes signaled by clear liquids turned milky, cracked jars, loose or dented lids, swollen or dented cans, or an “off” odor. Recently, botulism has also been associated with low oxygen cooked foods (i.e. foil wrapped; vacuum packaged) which have been held at room temperatures for long periods of time.
Symptoms (after eating): Onset: 4-72 hours; nervous system disturbances such as double vision, droopy eyelids, trouble speaking, swallowing, breathing. Untreated botulism can be fatal. If you or a family member have botulism symptoms, get medical help immediately. Then call health authorities.
Prevention: Carefully examine canned goods (particularly those canned at home), and don’t use any canned goods showing danger signs. Also, cook and reheat foods thoroughly, keep cooked foods hot (above 140 degrees F) or cold (below 40 degrees F) and divide large portions of cooked food into smaller portions for serving and cooling.
Disease: Perfringens food poisoning
Source: “Buffet germ” that grows rapidly in large portions of food that cool slowly. It grows in chafing dishes which may not keep food sufficiently hot and in the refrigerator if food is stored in portions too large to cool quickly.
Symptoms (after eating): Onset: 8-24 hours; diarrhea, gas pains, nausea, and sometimes vomiting lasting only a day. Usually mild, but can be serious in ulcer patients, the elderly, ill, or immune-compromised.
Prevention: Keep food hot (above 140 degrees F) or cold (below 40 degrees F). Divide bulk cooked foods into small portions for serving and cooling. Reheat leftovers to at least 165 degrees F. Take special care with poultry, stew, soup, gravy, and casseroles.
Source: Contracted from untreated drinking water, infected pets, and when contaminated meat, poultry, milk, or shellfish is eaten raw or undercooked. Symptoms (after eating): Onset: 2-10 days; severe diarrhea (possibly bloody), cramps, fever, and headache lasting 1-10 days.
Prevention: Don’t drink untreated water or unpasteurized milk. Wash hands, utensils and surfaces that touch raw poultry or meat. Thoroughly cook meat, poultry, and seafood.
Source: Common in nature, food processing environments, and intestinal tracts of humans and animals. Spread in untreated water, unpasteurized milk and dairy products, raw meat and seafood, plus raw vegetables fertilized with infected manure.
Symptoms (after eating): Onset: 2-30 days. Adults can develop fever, chills, and intestinal flu-like symptoms. Infants may vomit, refuse to drink, or have trouble breathing. Possible complications-meningitis, meningo-encephalitis, blood poisoning, spontaneous abortion, stillbirths. Rare, but can be fatal. Pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, infirm, and immune-compromised are most at risk.
Prevention: Avoid raw milk and cheese made from unpasteurized milk. Follow keep refrigerated labels, observe sell by and use by dates, and thoroughly reheat frozen or refrigerated processed meat and poultry products before eating.
Source: Spread when human carrier with poor sanitary habits handles liquid or moist food that is not thoroughly cooked afterwards. Shigella multiply at room temperature. Susceptible foods include poultry, milk and dairy products, salads, and other foods that require a lot of mixing and handling and no further heat treatment.
Symptoms (after eating): Onset: 1-7 days; abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, sometimes vomiting, and blood, pus or mucus in stool; lasts 5-6 days. Most serious in infants, the elderly, infirm, or immune-compromised.
Prevention: Practice good personal hygiene and sanitary food handling (wash hands thoroughly and frequently). Also, avoid leaving perishable foods unrefrigerated over 2 hours and cook food thoroughly (reheat to at least 165 degrees F). Do not prepare food when ill with diarrhea or vomiting.
ESCHERICHIA COLI O157:H7
Disease: Hemorrhagic colitis
Source: Serotype 0157:H7 toxin contracted by drinking water which contains raw sewage (usually during travel). Also, can occur in raw or rare ground beef and unpasteurized milk.
Symptoms (after eating): Onset: 3-4 days; severe abdominal cramps followed by diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever lasting to 10 days. May require hospitalization. Possible complication-Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a urinary tract infection capable of causing kidney failure in children.
Prevention: Don’t drink untreated water or unpasteurized milk. Thoroughly cook food and reheat it to at least 165 degrees F. Don’t leave perishable food unrefrigerated over 2 hours.
*from the Virginia State Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
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