Keep Foodborne Illnesses from Spoiling Your Summer Picnic

April 26, 2021

Summertime fun is right around the corner after more than a year of social distancing and being trapped inside. We have opportunities to get reacquainted — carefully — with friends and family, so let’s take a couple of minutes to brush up on some basic food safety tips for those backyard barbecues and cookouts in the park.

Cleanliness and careful preparation are important to keep bacteria, toxins, parasites, and germs from poisoning your good time. After all, the only thing you want to take home from one of these celebrations are great memories.

man on couch foodborne

Food Poisoning Basics

Every year, about 48 million people in the U.S. are affected by some type of foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning. Food poisoning is often caused by a bacteria or virus which can come from almost anywhere. Food can become contaminated when it’s harvested, processed, distributed, or when it’s being prepared.

Most foodborne sickness causes diarrhea and vomiting and resolves itself within a day or two. People with compromised immune systems, the elderly, young children, and pregnant women are at greater risk for serious and even potentially deadly complications.

Some of the more common causes of foodborne illnesses include:

  • Escherichia coli — Some E. coli can cause severe illness while others are harmless. Cook food well, don’t consume raw milk, and keep hands clean when preparing food to prevent the spread of E. coli.
  • Norovirus — This virus comes from consuming contaminated food or water. It can also be passed from person to person, so wash hands and produce carefully.
  • Salmonella — Meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables, spices, and nuts can all be contaminated, so make sure to cook and wash foods thoroughly before consumption.
  • Listeria — Listeria is typically caused by eating improperly processed deli meats and unpasteurized milk products. The infection can move from the gut into the blood or brain leading to a blood infection or meningitis and it can be fatal. It can also cause serious conditions for expectant mothers, such as miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm labor, or death in newborns. It's important to keep food preparation areas and tools clean, scrub fruits and vegetables, and cook meats thoroughly.
  • Hepatitis A — This is a virus found in contaminated water, shellfish, and salads. It usually appears two to four weeks after exposure and resolves itself within two weeks.

grilling foodborne illness


Safer in Four Steps

Bacteria need an opportunity to grow, and viruses need the chance to spread. Don’t let them! You can reduce your family’s risk of getting a foodborne illness by remembering to clean, separate, cook, and chill – every time!

Clean hands and produce — Have some wipes for your hands and wash fruits and vegetables before you pack them in case there’s no water available where you’re going. Always clean hands after touching raw meat and cover surfaces if you can’t clean them. Clean the grill and tools before and after using them. Be sure to check brush bristles and public grills for cooked-on food.

Separate raw foods from cooked — Bacteria live on raw meat and seafood until it’s cooked so don’t let that raw food touch cooked meats or other foods that are ready to eat. Throw away any marinades and don’t let them touch prepared foods. Put the cooked food on its own plate and use different utensils for handling raw and cooked meat and seafood.

Cook meats well — Killing harmful bacteria depends on getting meat to the right internal temperature. The best way to be sure is with a meat thermometer. Beef, pork, and fish should get to 145 degrees (Fahrenheit). Hamburgers should be done at 160 degrees. Chicken and turkey are done at 165 degrees. Smoking meats requires temperatures to reach between 225 and 300 degrees.

Keep foods cold — Ice is extremely important for picnics because bacteria like warm environments (between 40 and 140 degrees). That’s why you keep the potato salad, deviled eggs, and banana pudding on ice until it’s time to serve. Also keep meats on ice until they’re ready for the grill. Foods need to be refrigerated within two hours of cooking, or sooner if it’s 90 degrees or warmer. Throw away anything that’s been out longer than that.

washing hands foodborne illness

Remember COVID-19 Safety

We couldn’t finish this post without reminding you that COVID-19 isn’t completely under control. Only gather with close family or friends who have been vaccinated against or are recovered from COVID-19. Wear a mask whenever possible, wash your hands frequently, and try to keep some space between yourself and others.

AltaMed Has You Covered

Food poisoning, sunburns, sprained ankles, pulled muscles, heat exhaustion, and dehydration are some of the things that can happen during the summer if you’re not careful. Don’t let any of this discourage you from getting outdoors to exercise, filling up on delicious, seasonal produce, and living a healthy, active life. AltaMed is here to help if you overdo it. Learn how to get started with AltaMed or call us at (888) 499-9303.

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Keep Your Gut Healthy to Keep Yourself Healthy

December 02, 2020

At some point you were probably encouraged to “trust your gut.” That’s great advice when it comes to believing in your instincts, but your gut is a major part of your digestive system. You have about 30 feet of intestines inside your body that are home to trillions of organisms working to maintain a healthy balance.

But gut health goes beyond what happens in the digestive system. It has been shown to affect the body’s immune system, it can help the body to fight infection, can prevent some types of cancers, and even plays a role in a person’s mental health.

Fighting Disease with Healthy Guts

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The research on gut health and overall health is relatively new so it’s difficult to say which strains of bacteria are the most beneficial or how bacteria work together to improve overall health. But there are a few interesting findings:

  • Cancer — A study found some evidence that a certain bacteria could protect against some cancers.
  • Heart disease — A study identified a bacteria that could prevent the inflammation that leads to fatty buildup in the arteries.
  • Immune system — Researchers discovered that giving a certain bacteria to mice with skin cancer made their immune systems attack tumor cells.

Your gut also plays a significant role in your outlook and mental health: it’s home to 95% of your body’s serotonin, an amazing hormone that regulates your sleep, appetite, mood, and sensitivity to pain.

Feeding a Healthy Gut

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How we’re built, how we manage stress, our family and genetic history, and what we eat all affect our gut. We can’t do much about our family or genetic history, but we can manage our stress, shape our bodies, and control what we put in them.

When you eat a lot of highly processed foods like fast food, chips, snacks, canned foods, and foods with added sugars, you kill the good bacteria in your gut. Sugar can cause a quick spike in serotonin, but it damages your gut’s ability to produce it. This eventually interferes with your body’s ability to regulate sleep, appetite, mood, and pain sensitivity. Eating less sugar will benefit your gut and just about every other system in your body.

Another way to improve your gut health is to add fiber to your diet, which you can get by eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Aim to consume 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day. If you don’t consume a lot of fiber, start adding it to your diet gradually to avoid bloating, gas, and discomfort.

Prebiotics and Probiotics

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To get the right bacterial balance, you should eat foods to feed the bacteria in your gut or eat foods that add bacteria to your gut. Feeding existing microbes requires prebiotics while adding new microbes calls for probiotics.

  • Prebiotics are dense carbohydrates that aren’t digestible by your body so they become food for the bacteria in your gut. There are lengthy lists of prebiotic foods but some of the more common ones are garlic, onion, leeks, asparagus, bananas, oats, apples, cocoa, jicama, and wheat bran.
  • Probiotics are found in bacteria-fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi.

If you think you could benefit from these nutrients, talk to an AltaMed dietician to find the food sources and supplements that would be best for you.

Maintaining a Healthy Gut

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Eating the right foods goes a long way toward having a healthy gut. Until the complex relationship between gut health and overall health is understood more, here are additional steps to take:

  • Eat slower — Chewing well before swallowing keeps you from swallowing air and improves digestion.
  • Have smaller meals — This encourages digestion and you avoid overfilling your stomach, which can lead to reflux.
  • Don’t dine at dark — Your gastrointestinal tract works better in the morning and during the day.
  • Control stress — Learn some relaxation techniques as digestion is harder when you’re stressed.
  • Have a routine — Eating at regular times has been shown to improve digestion.
  • Move more — This helps maintain a healthy weight and avoid digestive problems.
  • Sleep more — Obesity is linked to lack of sleep and obesity leads to digestive problems.

We’re Here for You

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AltaMed can help you answer questions about the connection between your gut health and your overall health. Our registered dieticians are available to get you on a path to eating a healthier diet. We can also help put together an exercise plan, and our Behavioral Health Services can help you cope with stress. Learn more by calling (888) 499-9303.

Summer Fruits & Vegetables to Try Right Now!

July 02, 2019

In Southern California, we have the greatest selection of colorful, flavorful, and nutritious fruits and vegetables year-round, but we get even luckier during the summer. Juicy melons, plump berries, succulent stone fruits, and vitamin-packed vegetables will soon be overflowing farmer’s market stalls, roadside stands, local shops, and backyard gardens.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the most popular summer fruits and veggies that you can add to your meal planning.

Apples

Curly hair girl biting an apple

Harvested in mid- to late-summer, there are more than a dozen varieties available. Ranging from tart (such as the traditional green Granny Smith) to sweet (hello, Honeycrisp!), apples are high in fiber and antioxidants, low in calories, and provide such a range of flavors that some are ideal for snacking, while others are better for baking.

Berries

Blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries are all bursting with vitamin C and antioxidants, and are a great source of fiber. These fragrant, colorful fruits are incredibly versatile—try them on their own, in smoothies, in pies, as toppings for oatmeal and yogurt, and more.

Cherries

Man hands holding a bunch of cherries and a box of cherries behind

Available from late spring and through the summer, around 20 varieties are widely available in the U.S. Cherries are typically divided into sweet (best for snacking) and tart (best for baking). Both types deliver vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and are low in calories.

Corn

Boy in a cornfield holding a bunch of corns

This barbecue favorite is rich in healthy minerals and vitamins A, B, and E. High in fiber and weighing in at only 100 calories an ear, corn fits in with a nutritional diet or weight-loss efforts. Just-picked corn is so sweet and flavorful, all you have to do is grill it lightly and add a pinch of salt – no butter required.

Cucumbers

The saying “cool as a cucumber” really does apply to this summer favorite. Coming into season when SoCal’s temperatures start to soar, cucumbers are fiber-rich and nearly 95% water to keep you full and hydrated. Packed with vitamins, minerals, folic acid, and carbohydrates, they make a light, refreshing snack on their own, or can be used in cool summer soups, salads, sandwiches, and more.

Eggplant

Farmer holding a wood box full with eggplants

Recognizable for its rich purple skin (though it is available in other colors), the eggplant is delicious when grilled, roasted, or baked, and it’s a staple of many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. High in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and water, eggplants are sometimes used as a meat replacement in vegetarian dishes.

Garlic

At its best in late summer and early fall, garlic comes in a number of nutritious and delicious varieties. High in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, this super food is believed to be good for battling bad cholesterol and lowering blood pressure. Garlic is used in all kinds of cooking and food preparation including sauces, dressings, spreads, and in recipes from cultures around the world.

Watermelon

Latino mom and daughter eating watermelon at a park

Is there any fruit that says “summer” more than watermelon? Slice it, cube it, grill it, freeze it, serve it with savory snacks, or make juices and drinks—there are countless ways to enjoy this flexible fruit. Jam-packed with vitamins and minerals, this refreshing melon is also high in lycopene—an antioxidant currently being studied for its health effects related to the heart and certain cancers.

Try Them All!

Table full with plates of different fruits at the lunch hour

Take some time to explore the wide variety of fresh healthy eating options in the produce section this time of year – you may be able to get some of these spring staples and fall favorites, too. From the deep reds and blues of berries, to the deep green of cucumbers, now is the time to exercise your taste buds. Add some color to your plate!