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Killer meat... Gas or charcoal, marinade or sauce, pork, poultry or cow: a recipe for disaster



Last year at around this time I wrote on article on barbecue safety - specifically how to avoid the various pyrotechnics and explosions that accompany this popular summer past-time.

I related a personal story where a porch awning, two eyebrows and several burgers and hot dogs, and a post-baseball garden party were ruined by the rupture of a fuel line. To this day, I crank on the gas, drop in a match and run for my life, ready to ride the explosion Bruce Willis-style if I have to. I don't stop running until I hear the "Foom".

I also touched briefly on the topic of barbecue-related food poisoning and the real dangers of dirty cutting boards, re-used marinades, undercooked meats, and soiled aprons, among others. In this column, I'd like to go into a little more depth - improper food handling can result in unscheduled trips to the bathroom, serious illness, and in some extreme cases, death.

Every day in the U.S. about 16,000 people get sick and 25 people die from something they ate. One out of every four chickens and one out of every seven turkeys has enough salmonella in them to make you sick, or even kill you. About one per cent of cattle are also infected.

Anywhere between 350 and 2,500 Americans die every year from salmonella and even then, according to the Nutrition Action Health Letter, the majority of cases go unreported.

The effects of campylobacter bacteria are even less closely monitored than salmonella, but the general consensus is that it sickens more people than salmonella. There's no way to tell how many deaths - medical laboratories and autopsy's don't test for campylobacter. The only conclusive evidence, according to the Center for Disease control in Atlanta - the same lab featured in the movie Outbreak - is that campylobacter is "the most frequently isolated foodborne bacterium from persons with diarrhea."

Salmonella enteritidis, the strain of salmonella that is most likely to affect eggs, causes between 200,000 and one million infections every year. Once again, there are no actual figures for deaths.

While many people have started washing their eggs, most tainted eggs are contaminated within the hens' ovaries before their shells even form.

E. coli bacteria is a usual suspect in food poisoning these days, especially after seven deaths and 2,300 poisonings in Walkerton, Ontario, in May of 2000. While the E. coli was transported through the water system and it can occur naturally in swampy areas, the Walkerton outbreak occurred when torrential rains washed infected cattle manure into a shallow town well.

Beef and E. coli go hand-in-hand, although other organisms can be infected as well.

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