Tailgate Times

Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy

A food poisoning ‘primer’

By Jacque Kochak

Talk about tailgating and food poisoning, and somebody immediately points to the potato salad. Potato salad got a bad rep because cooks once used homemade mayonnaise, which was made with raw eggs—and raw eggs sometimes harbor the bacteria Salmonella, which proliferates rapidly when the temperature rises.

However, the eggs in commercial mayonnaise today are pasteurized and sterilized. The bad bug is dead.

You still don’t want to leave potato salad out when you tailgate, because it can be a vehicle for staphylococcal food poisoning. Potato salad usually involves preparation by hand, and staph hangs out on our skin and in the nose and facial area. You cut up the potatoes, and you might transfer staph.

One in six

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that one in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning this year. More than 120,000 people will be hospitalized, and some 3,000 will die. At a tailgate, two of the foods most likely to cause food poisoning are hamburgers and chicken. But if both are cooked to the proper temperature on the grill, any bacteria will be killed.

The truth about hamburgers

Hamburger sometimes harbors E. coli. The most serious outbreak occurred in 1993, when four children died and hundreds fell ill after eating undercooked hamburgers at Jack in the Box outlets on the West Coast.

The beef patties were contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. One severe potential complication is hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which destroys red blood cells, causing kidney damage.

The company’s history dramatically illustrates why you want to cook your hamburgers until they are at least medium-well done.

Steaks are different—any bacteria are on the outside and will be killed when you sear the surface, leaving the juicy insides medium rare. Hamburger, however, is ground up so that bacteria on the surface of the meat is disseminated throughout the meat patty.

What about chicken?

In one of the most recent outbreak to make the news, hundreds of people were infected with seven outbreak strains of Salmonella Heidelberg. Fortunately, most people recover from salmonellosis without treatment, and no deaths have been reported.

All raw chicken must be cooked to 165 degrees F to ensure safety.

Different kinds of Salmonella are widespread in the natural environment and can be spread from place to place by wildlife.

The main culprits

More than 250 different pathogens can cause food poisoning. The most frequent cause is Salmonella, which accounts for close to 40 percent of reported infections. The second most common is Campylobacter, accounting for about 35 percent of infections, which is also found in chicken and other raw meat. E. coli is an increasingly common source of infection. Other sources of food poisoning include Listeria and Vibrio.

For more details on pathogens that cause food poisoning, visit our online Tailgate Times.