Health matters

Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.
Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.
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AS part of our ongoing series of health columns, Julie Hirst, public health specialist for NHS Derbyshire County, including Buxton and the High Peak, looks at eating safely.

With the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games to look forward to, outdoor parties and barbecues will be part of our celebrations this summer.

Unfortunately, every year the hot weather sees an increase in the number of food poisoning cases and barbecue accidents. Up to one million cases of illness due to food are reported in the UK each year, and many more cases will go unreported. Of these 20,000 people will end up in hospital and 500 die.

Food cooked at barbeques is often blamed for food poisoning incidents, but why do we change our habits when we eat and cook outside? It is easy to relax at a street party, barbecue or picnic but it is wise to protect yourself, your family and friends by taking some simple food hygiene steps.

Bugs that cause food poisoning love the hot weather. Storing food in warm conditions encourages the bugs to grow – with possible unpleasant or even serious consequences. When you buy your raw meat for the barbeque make sure it is stored in cool conditions (0-5ºc) at the bottom of the fridge and kept in a cool bag when taken outside. Other foods such as cooked meats, pate, eggs and milk should also be stored in cool conditions.

Most people know that food needs to be cooked properly on a barbeque, until the middle is cooked and hot. This can be hard to tell when the outside is burnt! Make sure the barbeque is the right temperature before starting to cook, and check the middle of food before serving. Never eat chicken, pork, burgers or sausages that are pink in the middle.

Another important thing is to avoid mixing uncooked and cooked foods which can mean that bugs get transferred from one food to another. Use different cooking tools, chopping boards and plates for raw meats.

Everyone should wash their hands before cooking and eating. Bugs can be on your hands which you don’t want to transfer into your mouth or onto your family’s food.

By taking these simple steps you can sit back, eat, relax and enjoy the party.

Symptoms of food poisoning such as being sick or having diarrhoea normally start between one to three days of eating food contaminated with bacteria. Most people will get better without the need for treatment but need to rest, drink plenty of fluids and eat easily digested food, such as toast, until they feel better.

Occasionally food poisoning can be more serious and may require medical attention. Food poisoning can be more serious for the very young, older people or those with other underlying medical conditions. Signs of a more serious case of food poisoning that requires medical attention include: being sick lasting for more than two days, not being able to keep liquids down for more than a day, diarrhoea that lasts for more than three days or is bloody, or a raised temperature.  

The NHS Choices website has more details regarding treating food poisoning http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Food-poisoning/Pages/Treatment.aspx

For more advice on food safety go to http://www.eatwell.gov.uk/keepingfoodsafe/ For more advice on food-borne infections such as campylobacter, salmonella, listeria and E.coli O157 visit the HPA website on www.hpa.org.uk.