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The fun foods that can ruin a party are probably not what you would think. No nutritional expert recommends that we eat barbecued meat every day, and even a Texas cattleman recognizes that you can grill zucchini as easily as you can grill steak.

Are There Really Fun Foods that Can Ruin a Party?

The beverages we consume at parties may leave us a little tipsy, but they probably won't cause lasting damage if we have a designated driver take us home. And for most of us, good nutrition at parties is more about how much we eat rather than what we eat.

But there are really are some foods served at BBQ's that you should avoid at all costs. Here are the top ten and how to recognize them. Let's start with potential microbial contamination.

1. Uncovered foods served outdoors that have attracted flies

If food tastes good to humans, it usually also tastes good to flies. The problem with flies is that they don't wash their feet with soap before they land on your food, and you really do not want to know where flies have been before they share your BBQ. Flies digest their food by vomiting saliva on the food and working the saliva into the food with their feet, potentially transmitting Salmonella, Klebsiella, Camplyobacteria, and E. coli. These bacteria can cause food poisoning and urinary tract infections. While a single flyspeck is highly unlikely to make you sick, it is always a good idea to cover foods when they are not being served.

2. Meat and fish prepared outdoors in assembly line fashion

At outdoor fish fries, it is not unusual for the cooks to set out a large number of fish or fish fillets that they dip in egg batter and flour or meal just before frying. If any one fish was contaminated by bacteria and dragged through the egg wash, then it will contaminate all the fish after it. Frying the fish does kills the bacteria, but if the chef touches the cooked fish with fingers contaminated by the egg batter, it is still possible to get food poisoning. There is a similar problem with meats marinated before barbecuing. Outdoor cooking is usually OK, but outdoor preparation is usually suspect.

3. Hamburgers cooked to order and served from a single platter

Cooks typically put all the burgers on the grill at the same time and take burgers to served rare off the grill first. If you want your burger rare, you take your chances with E. coli contamination. If you ask for your burger well done and it is served from the same platter that was just used to serve a rare burger, E. coli contamination could rub off on your serving. Clean serving platters and clean grill utensils minimize cross-contamination.

4. Foods cooked without access to running water

It is possible to cook safely on a camping trip. It just requires more planning. If your group uses an outdoor toilet facility without any way of washing hands and the cook also cooks outdoors without washing hands, exercise extreme caution about what you eat.

5. Mayonnaise-based slaws or salads that are left on a serving table (even if there are no flies) for more than 30 minutes

Mayonnaise actually reduces the risk of food poisoning by making it hard for bacteria to form colonies large enough to survive stomach acid after they eaten along with the food. When the mayonnaise in the coleslaw or potato salad is constantly stirred, however, the bacteria are spread through the food and find more locations to multiply. If the salad is kept cold by putting the bowl on ice, then the main concern is flies.

If you are concerned about the possibility of Salmonella or E. coli poisoning in your food, consider investing in a vial of food test strips. These test strips can be applied directly to food or to kitchen or outdoor surfaces to detect the presence of the strains of bacteria most likely to cause food poisoning.
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  • Brehler R, Theissen U, Mohr C, Luger T (April 1997). ""Latex-fruit syndrome": frequency of cross-reacting IgE antibodies". Allergy 52 (4): 404–10.