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Here are ten essential tips for barbecue safety, or at least here are answers to 10 questions that should be frequently asked about keeping your family, your guests, and yourself healthy before, during, and after holiday picnics.

As Americans once again celebrate their national Independence Day, just three days after Canadians celebrate Canada Day, tens of millions will be firing up the grills and stoking the barbecue pit for holiday meals. 

Every year in the USA alone, however, about 48 million people suffer food poisoning. Over 125,000 Americans have to be admitted to the hospital for food-related illnesses, and over 3,000 people die. The overwhelming majority of these cases occur during summer months, and on no single day are there more incidents of food-borne illness than the Fourth of July.

Don't become one of the estimated 2 million people who will suffer some kind of food-borne infection this Fourth of July holiday. Follow these 10 essential tips for outdoor food safety.

1. Recognize the symptoms of food poisoning

Eating microbially contamined food usually doesn't cause any symptoms for 8 to 48 hours. The most common problems are vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes simultaneously, but also:

  • Abdominal pain,
  • Fever,
  • Joint pain,
  • Bloody, mucous-y, or rice-like stool, or
  • Bloating and gas.

Food poisoning symptoms may last up to two weeks. Painful bowel movements with blood and mucus in the stool may indicate a food-related prostate infection in men. 

2. Food-borne illnesses seldom strike just one person

Typically everyone who eats a contaminated food item will come down with symptoms. If you were the chef, it's responsible to let your guests know about the problem so they can take prophylactic measures.

3. Don't try to treat food poisoning with Paregoric or similar diarrhea medicines

Diarrhea, as odd as it may sound, is your friend when you have food poisoning. Diarrhea is the way your body expels the bacteria or other microorganisms that are causing gastric distress. If you succeed in stopping diarrhea by taking an over-the-counter product like Paregoric or Kaopectate, you will only prolong the time that the infection can stay in your system. It is especially important not to try to stop diarrhea that is causing bloody stools. This can be a sign of an invasive microorganism that can cause more problems than just gastrointestinal upset. See your doctor if you have blood in your stool after eating contaminated food.

4. Raw seafood can transmit norovirus even if it's been stored at the right temperature

It just takes a few (about seven) copies of the Norwalk virus (norovirus) to cause you to come down with really bad viral food poisoning really fast. Be absolutely sure that you wash your hands before and after handling raw sea food, and don't eat any raw seafood that isn't prepared under sanitary conditions. Hot peppers and lime juice actually do offer a minimum of protection against food-borne illnesses, but they aren't enough to make contaminated food absolutely safe.

5. Add nutmeg and oregano to your marinades of raw meat before barbecuing

The essential oils of nutmeg and oregano kill Yersinia enterocolitica and Listeria monocytogenes, two kinds of disease-causing bacteria that are relatively common in raw and undercooked chicken (or in the juices from raw chicken). 

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Lima AD, Costa Fortes R, Carvalho Garbi Novaes MR, Percário S. Poisonous mushrooms: a review of the most common intoxications. Nutr Hosp. 2012 Mar-Apr. 27(2):402-8. doi: 10.1590/S0212-16112012000200009. Review. PMID: 22732961.
  • Nordstrom L, Liu CM, Price LB. Foodborne urinary tract infections: a new paradigm for antimicrobial-resistant foodborne illness.Front Microbiol. 2013. 4:29. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2013.00029. Epub 2013 Mar 6. PMID: 23508293 [PubMed].
  • Photo courtesy of freecandy13 by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/60952061@N04/6973853186/
  • Photo courtesy of Food Thinkers by Flickr : www.flickr.com/photos/foodthinkers/4584688468/

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