OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Foods that a food safety expert would avoid

09/09/1997

CORVALLIS - Many people mistake food poisoning for the 24-hour flu. An upset stomach, diarrhea, nausea - sometimes the symptoms are relatively mild, but the effects of some types of food poisoning, such as botulism, can linger for years or result in death.

Here are some foods that Carolyn Raab, Oregon State University Extension food and nutrition specialist, would target as potential sources of bacteria that cause food poisoning. None of these foods has to look or smell spoiled in order to deliver a nasty - or even fatal - case of food poisoning.

- Undercooked ground beef. If you keep up with the news, you know that this is a source of E. coli O157:H7 food poisoning. It is especially dangerous for young children, pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with a severe illness that weakens their immune system. Cook ground beef until the pink color disappears.

- Homemade canned salsa processed incorrectly. Unless laboratory-tested recipes are used, salsa could be unsafe to eat. For extra safety, boil it for 10 minutes before eating to destroy the toxin that causes botulism food poisoning. (Boil it an extra minute for each 1,000 feet of elevation. The same length of time is needed in the microwave.) The same advice applies to any home-canned vegetables that weren't processed in a pressure canner or have an unknown processing history.

- Raw milk, raw milk products, unpasteurized apple juice. All are potential sources of E. coli O157:H7 or other bacteria. Buy pasteurized products or reduce the risk by heating raw milk to 165 degrees F or raw apple juice to 170 degrees F before drinking.

- Any food containing raw or undercooked eggs. Eggs are a potential source of salmonella bacteria. Cook eggs thoroughly.

- High protein, moist foods held at room temperature longer than two to three hours. Examples include cooked meats, poultry and seafood, baked potatoes, pasta salad and cream pie. The lukewarm temperature lets bacteria to grow like wildfire. Keep hot food hot and cold food cold.

- Soups and stews left unrefrigerated or cooled too slowly in large containers. Warm temperatures allow bacteria to flourish. Put soup or stew in shallow pans in the refrigerator for faster cooling.

- Unwashed raw vegetables and fruits. Sprouts, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, melons and other produce have been involved in isolated outbreaks of food poisoning. Crops can become contaminated with salmonella and E. coli bacteria and the newly-discovered cyclospora parasite. To reduce health risks, wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water before eating them. Use a vegetable brush to remove visible soil.

- Raw fish and shellfish, such as oysters. Cooking thoroughly will destroy parasites and viruses that might be present.