Store food safely to avoid getting sick

As summer approaches, many people will be hosting backyard barbecues. But before you leave the food out all day, keep in mind this food safety guidance from Dr. Lukasz Kwapisz, assistant professor of medicine – gastroenterology at Baylor College of Medicine, to ensure that you and your guests don’t get sick.

A selection of cut fruits and veggies, including leafy greens, carrots and a melon, sitting in small plastic containers on a black surface.Q: Why does eating food that has been left unrefrigerated for too long make us sick?

A: Bacteria can grow quickly on our food especially at prime temperatures like the ones we keep in our houses. Once the bacteria grow on this food and we ingest it, you can guess what happens next: vomiting and diarrhea, feeling the brunt of it from both ends.

Q: What are the symptoms of food poisoning? How can you differentiate between food poisoning and a stomach virus?

A: The symptoms of food poisoning and stomach flu are the same: mainly vomiting and watery diarrhea. Often, our patients will also describe muscle aches, feeling dehydrated and stomach cramps. Commonly, food poisoning can be caused by bacteria and viruses in contaminated food and the terms “stomach bug or flu” or “viral gastroenteritis” are often used to describe these symptoms. Stomach flu also can spread through contact with an infected person.

Q: When should you go see a doctor for food poisoning?

A: A good rule of thumb is to see a doctor if your symptoms last longer than two days. If you see blood, either in your vomit or in your stool, it’s important to get checked out. Watch your liquid intake and be careful to avoid getting dehydrated. If you are experiencing severe pain or a high fever, see a doctor right away.

Q: How long is it safe to leave cooked food out of the fridge?

A: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends 2 hours between cooking food and putting it away in the fridge. Importantly, if the food is cooked outside and it’s 90 degrees outside (like at a barbecue) the timeline gets even shorter to 1 hour.

Q: How long can you keep food in the fridge before it’s not safe to eat?

A: The numbers can vary, but a general rule of thumb to keep in mind is that:

Uncooked produce like fruits and vegetables last 3-5 days in the fridge. Uncooked meat can be as short as 1-2 days for chicken and up to 5 days for steak and ribs. Cooked food and leftovers typically last to around the 3-4 day mark. Remember to put the food into the freezer if you don’t think you’ll eat it within 4 days.

Learn about Baylor Medicine Gastroenterology and Digestive Health

-By Molly Chiu

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