Some like it hot, but not when it comes to summer food safety

sliced tomato and cooked bulgur over leaf lettuce

Kate Sherwood - CSPI.

Summertime favorites like ice cream, salad a major source of food illnesses outbreaks

WASHINGTON - With picnic and barbecue season about to go into full swing, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) alerted consumers today about steps they can take to avoid food safety problems. Many summertime favorites, like ice cream, fresh fruit, and salads sometimes cause food poisoning. Those foods caused at least 130 confirmed food-poisoning outbreaks between 1990 and 2001, according to CSPI’s report Outbreak Alert! Closing the Gaps in Our Federal Food Safety Net (Acrobat 953k). The report compiles data from laboratory-confirmed food-poisoning outbreaks reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state public-health departments, and medical journals. Most cases of food poisoning are never reported or confirmed.

Over the past decade, fruits and vegetables were linked to at least 82 outbreaks of other food-borne illness, according to the CSPI report. For example, this spring a food-poisoning outbreak, suspected of causing 33 illnesses and 2 deaths, has been traced to cantaloupe in California and several other states. In 1996, an outbreak of Cyclospora caused by imported raspberries sickened nearly 1,500 people in 21 states and Canada. Produce outbreaks also were caused by domestically grown fruits and vegetables.

“Consumers should eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet,” said Charlotte Christin, food safety attorney with CSPI. “But it’s important to wash your produce carefully before eating it.”

Raw eggs can result in a problem when used in homemade ice cream and salads. CSPI documented over 30 outbreaks from ice cream. Twenty-four outbreaks were caused by salads and salad dressings, including such favorites as caesar salad, chicken salad, potato salad and cole slaw. Hazards in salad included Salmonella,Campylobacter, E. coli 0157:H7, and the virus Hepatitis A.

“Summertime is a great time for outdoor feasts with friends and family, but you have to take steps to prevent a food disaster,” said Christin. “For outdoor cooking at picnics, barbecues, and on camping trips, summertime chefs must remember to keep it cold,keep it clean, and cook it well-done.”