On Food "Poisoning"
From: Joani Blank (jeblankic.org)
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2000 02:01:13 -0700 (MST)
In the sixties when I went to a School of Public Health, I was required to
take a microbiology course where I learned about diseases caused by bugs
that grow in food when it is handled improperly.  The bottom line lessons
were pretty simple, and I think that they still apply today.

1.  The most common food-borne "infection," NOT "poisoning," is caused by a
bacterium called Salmonella which much poultry is full off when it is raw,
and which is sometimes on the outside of eggs but not often there because
the bacteria needs moisture to survive and the outside of eggs is usually
pretty dry.. These wee beasties multiply rapidly in your tummy, usually
making you feel pretty bad 10-14 hours after you eat them. They cause
nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and you can feel pretty icky for up to a day

Just about the only time that these bugs get into what's on your plate is
when cooked chicken (bugs are dead) or salad greens are placed or cut up on
a surface that has not had the raw chicken juices cleaned off adequately.
Soap and moderately hot running water and a "scratchy cloth" does quite an
adequate job, no matter what the surface, and soap and water on any knives
that were used on the raw chicken.   Chemicals or dishwasher-hot water for
X minutes are not necessary.

2.  Then there's Staphylococcus (spelling?) aka Staph which actually
produces a toxin--now this is more like poisoning to me.  The toxin is not
destroyed by  heat though the staph itself is, but that's kind of
irrelevant because this is the one you get sick with if you eat potato
salad or cream pies that have been left out in the sun at the church picnic
for hours.  Staph causes the same symptoms  as salmonella  (plus stomach
cramping if I recall rightly) but they are much more severe and have a much
faster onset--2 to 4 hours if I recall correctly.  I think one typically
recovers faster too. 

They used to say that when you get this it's not like you think you are
dying, but that you wish you would die.  Staph--not usually from food--is
what kills people in hospitals, but that is primarily because hospitalized
people are already weakened by illness or surgery and cannot fend off the
big bad germs and their toxins. 

The moral of the story is don't leave stuff with mayonnaise or similar
substances out in the sun--or even on the kitchen counter if it is in the
middle of a hot summer day--for a long time.  As far as that chicken or
turkey is concerned., if, after it comes out of the oven or off the grill,
it doesn't come in contact with raw chicken leavings,  it could stay on the
kitchen counter for days without growing salmonella again.  The same thing
is true of bacterial growth in pasteurized dairy products.  You can leave
it unrefrigerated for days, until it's really sour, but the bacteria have
all been killed by the pasteurization. Of course various kinds of bacterial
cultures are introduced into pasteurized milk to make sour cream and
yogurt, but that just makes it yummy, not dangerous.

3, E. (escherichia?) coli is in the intestinal tracts of mammals and
humans, and does show up ground red meat from time to time.  I believe
recent outbreaks have been traced to meat processing plants, not to bad
food handling practices at restaurants or in people's homes.  

If there is an outbreak in your area, just be sure you don't serve steak
tartare, or rare burgers and you'll be okay.  Whole pieces of meat are not
a problem because the bad beasties from the intestines will only be on the
outside where the butcher's knives smeared them around, and that part will
get cooked even if you just sear your steak.  Also probably a good idea to
clean surfaces where raw meat has been lying before cutting veggies or
fruit that's going to be eaten raw on the same surface.  Cooking kills e.

If I'm off base about any of this (after all it's been 35 years since I
learned it) I'm sure one of you smart people will correct me.

Joani Blank
Soon-to-be resident of Old Oakland CoHousing @ Swan's Market where I may
never eat a common meal because we'll have about 100 restaurants within
four or five blocks of home (including Oakland's wonderful Chinatown). Just
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