To your health: Get informed to keep those stomach bugs at bay

By Leia Kedem

Stomach woes were rampant this past winter. Were you one of the unlucky ones to experience a 24-hour bug or the "stomach flu?" If so, I'm willing to bet you'd do anything to avoid repeating it.

As most of us are aware, frequent hand washing is the single most important thing a person can do to minimize the chances of picking up germs. But besides the (probably inevitable) possibility of getting sick from touching infected surfaces, we are also vulnerable to food-borne illness.

Sadly, the statistics are grim. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in six Americans will come down with food-borne illness each year. Of course, that is simply an estimate. Many cases go unreported, so the numbers might actually be much higher.

Yes, many of us are familiar with the perils of food poisoning. Most food-borne illnesses cause some kind of digestive upset, which is never pleasant. In fact, that "flu" actually might have been caused by something you ate.

With spring just about here, we're not out of the woods. The warmer months provide ideal conditions for illness-causing germs to grow.

I don't mean to scare you: The good news is that food-borne illness can be prevented.

Of course, it all starts with washing those hands. There are too many issues to address in this space, so I highly encourage you to get online and check out FoodSafety.gov. You can find information on food recalls, proper thawing methods, cooking temperatures, food storage, and more.

Like I said, no one ever wants to get sick. Then again, we don't want to be responsible for making others sick, either. Food-related events are always happening during the spring and summer, and many things can go wrong.

Too often bake sales, potlucks and fundraisers are not organized, and things fall by the wayside. Volunteers may not know how to serve food, it might be kept too warm or not warm enough, and other food safety principles may not be followed. If there is an outbreak of food poisoning, the organization could be held liable.

If you are part of an organization that is putting on any kind of event where food is involved, I invite you to join me April 17 as I present "Serve it Safely." In this seminar, you'll learn the food safety principles that are needed to ensure that your event goes smoothly, safely and successfully.

We'll focus on the preparation, storage and serving of food for public consumption. Of course, anyone interested in learning about food safety is welcome — all information presented is applicable to keeping food safe at home, too.

"Serve it Safely" will be presented from 6 to 8 p.m. April 17 at 801 N. Country Fair Drive, C. There is a $5 fee, which includes a take-home manual and thermometer.

Participation is limited to the first 35 registrants. Register by April 15 at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv or by calling 333-7672. I hope to see you there!

Leia Kedem is a nutrition and wellness educator with the University of Illinois Extension, serving Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties. Contact her at 333-7672 or at lweston2@illinois.edu.

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Bob from Champaign wrote on April 09, 2013 at 10:04 am

This is one reason I refuse to eat at "potluck" events.  A lot of people have filthy kitchens, and have no idea how to prepare food safely.  Church meals are the worst. Just because "Aunt Martha" is a kindly soul, doesn't mean her kitchen is sanitary.  Do yourself and your family a favor and skip these food gatherings.  If your organization really wants to do a meal, take up a collection and have it catered by a licenced business.

LocalTownie wrote on April 09, 2013 at 12:04 pm

I agree, Bob. I used to get sick after every potluck I went to. I'm wiser now and bring something I really like and eat only items brought by people who's homes I've been to. That way I don't have to take the chance. People have the best intentions but can easily make mistakes. Even if you have food from a business you can run into problems if it isn't handled properly at the event. For example, a bucket of fried chicken left out too long at a family reunion in the park.