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Food borne illnesses happen year round but during the summer, heat and packing food to be eaten later increase the risk. Food borne pathogens require a food source, usually protein, moisture and heat to grow. Once a food is infected, the bacteria will multiply rapidly under these conditions. These pathogens can’t be tasted or smelled so your best chance of protecting yourself from them is practicing safe food handling methods.

Most food-borne illness outbreaks in the United States are the result of three pathogens; Salmonella, E. Coli, and Campylobacter. Various strains of strep, and other viral infections can also be transmitted through food.

When handling raw foods, always work on a clean surface. Use clean utensils and never go from cutting up one food to cutting up another without washing the knife and the cutting board. Don’t mix raw and cooked foods.

Between the temperatures of 45 degrees and 140 degrees, bacteria will grow rampantly. Keep hot foods at 160 degrees or higher and cold foods at 40 degrees or lower. Get and use a food thermometer and be sure to clean it after every single use. When testing the temperature, test at the thickest point of the food.

Storing foods safely to travel is difficult. Use shallow containers no deeper than two inches. Surround cold foods with ice and keep hot foods in good thermal bags made especially for transporting hot food. Use the foods quickly and store any leftovers immediately after serving. Do not let foods sit out at room or air temperature for more than 20 minutes.

When you reheat foods, bring them to a temperature of at least 170 degrees before serving. Cold foods should be 40 degrees or less when served.

The most common symptoms of food borne illness are like those of the flu; fever, stomach cramps and diarrhea. Most people will recover quickly but elderly or sickly adults are at higher risk for complications. Children are at very high risk because their small bodies cannot fight off the amount of bacteria our larger bodies can. If you suspect that your child has contracted a food-borne illness, get him or her to the doctor immediately.

Probably the most serious food borne illness we hear about these days is E coli. The E. coli bacteria usually is contracted from contact with feces, most often cow feces. Never serve meats less than well done. The internal temperature of meats should be at least 170 degrees at the thickest point. Children especially should not be fed meat that is not well done. Do not let color be your guide. Meats that look well done may test lower than 170 degrees.

To keep the risk of food-borne illness at a minimum, remember to keep hot foods hot, 170 degrees or better. Keep cold foods cold, 40 degrees or less. Store foods in shallow containers, no deeper than two inches. Never mix raw and cooked foods. Always clean utensils before reusing them. If your child or a sick or elderly person contracts illness you suspect to be food borne, get them to a doctor right away.

The Centers for Disease Control says that 76 million cases of food borne illness occur each year. Of those cases, about 5,000 people die. Keep your family from being a statistic.