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Monday, July 7, 2008

People aren't the only ones who love cookouts. Because of their unfettered access to outdoor feasts, insects and microbes of all varieties often enjoy them, too. And while you may see no harm in sharing a bit of your bounty with the earth's smallest creatures, you should know that their participation can come at a hefty price to your health.

There are some 250 foodborne diseases, caused by a myriad of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Each year, these diseases are responsible for making about 76 million people sick in the United States. Of these 76 million, 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die. Do you know the facts on foodborne illness?

Bacteria Are Food-Lovers. Food provides bacteria with all the nutrients they need to flourish, but they also require a certain range in temperature, pH level, and water activity. E. coli bacteria can grow in temperatures as cold as 45° F and as warm as 122° F; they can survive in a pH level as acidic as 4.4 and need a minimum water activity of 0.95. The ranges for other bacteria vary, though often not widely, which means you should take the proper precautions with raw foods and cook meats to the USDA-recommended temperatures of 145° F for steaks and fish, 160° F for pork and ground beef, and 165° F for chicken.

They Can Multiply—Fast. Let's say there's a Salmonella bacterium in your potato salad. Under optimum conditions, it can replicate itself once every 20 minutes. After four hours, there will be 4,096 of its kind navigating through the mayo. And it's likely that it wasn't alone when it reached your salad. So if it showed up with a few hundred of its kind, you'll be left with about 1.23 million unwelcome Salmonella bacteria in four hour's time, which is enough to make you ill.


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