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Food Poisoning Prevention For Tailgaters


There are plenty of places to get food poisoning: potlucks, restaurants, even your own kitchen. This time of year, public health officials warn sports fans that a tailgate party can be a breeding ground for food borne pathogens.

Before kickoff, die hard football fans are known to spend hours in parking lots, partying from the back of vehicles. Here's what's on the menu for one tailgater's party:
Tailgater: "Chips and dip. Brats. Chicken mushrooms and pineapple and we had hamburgers to start…"
The Environmental Health Specialist for Lane County is Zach Manning. He offers up an anecdotal story that might sound familiar.

Manning: "My father in law, who takes us to U of O football games and is a wonderful tailgater. When I got this job I said 'Steven, how do you know when those spare ribs are done?' He says, 'Well, after about a beer and a half.'"
Manning, who spends a lot of his time inspecting restaurants throughout the county, says there is just no way to safely assume when meat is thoroughly cooked. You have to temp it.
Manning: "And so for Christmas my father in law got a thermometer."

In addition to putting out messages like that one--Lane County Public Health inspects restaurants and festival venues to ensure food is being prepared and handled properly. When there is an outbreak of a food related illness, officials like Manning go into detective mode.  The investigations may lead to collecting stool samples to isolate the bacteria or virus doing the sickening.

Manning says about 90 percent of the food poisoning cases he sees are Norovirus. And it comes from not washing hands well or often enough.

Manning: "Some people know mad cow disease by foot and mouth. We call Norovirus poop and mouth because that's really improper hygiene. It's gross and nasty but it's the truth."

When food handlers practice improper hygiene, the results can be devastating. Take the case of one notorious cook working in New York in the 1930's:
Headline Reader:"Typhoid Mary breeds Typhoid Fever germs and scatters them wherever she goes."

Buffington:"I remember something about Typhoid Mary. It was one of the first stories of public health."
That's Sydney Buffington. She's a Nurse with Lane County Public Health.

Buffington:"Salmonella Typhi is the cause of Typhoid Fever. We didn't know it was spread by the lack of hand washing and the lack of hygiene. And she was what we call an asymptomatic carrier of this disease. So she had it but she didn't know that she had it and she sickened hundreds of people with Thyphoid Fever."

Food poisoning prevention is all about good practices. Buffington realizes food borne illnesses are often associated with fun, social events. So she encourages perspective.

Buffington: "You don’t' want to quit partying…the idea is to just want to do it right. Don't keep food out for longer than four hours between the temperatures of 40 and 140 degrees. Wash your hands and wash your hands 20 seconds at a time really scrub them well and use hand sanitizer.

Reporter: "But don't quit partying?"
Buffington: "Don't quit partying."

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.