St. Charles Herald-Guide

Donít let Mardi Gras make you ... urp - sick!

Staff Report - February 7, 2007

Most of us are too busy catching beads and trinkets during Mardi Gras parades to realize that itís almost impossible to keep our hands clean and free of germs.

And that means we probably arenít giving much thought to the food that sits out all day growing bacteria that could, in turn, make us sick.

ďDonít let food poisoning be a memento of the Mardi Gras season," says food safety expert Dr. Beth Reames.

ďBy following some simple practices, you can enjoy the festivities without suffering from foodborne illnesses."

The LSU AgCenter nutritionist says many people think they have the flu or a 24-hour virus when theyíre actually suffering from food poisoning.

The symptoms are often the same - stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Other symptoms include headaches, chills and fever.

Reames points out that food can be contaminated by the food handler or unclean surroundings.

Not washing hands is one of the most common ways to contaminate foods and spread viruses, Reames says, noting, "Trying to keep hands clean in a carnival atmosphere, when you are reaching for beads from dirty streets and using unsanitary restrooms, is almost impossible."

She recommends taking plenty of moist towelettes or baby wipes with you to clean your hands before touching food.

Although people faithfully pack their beverages on ice, Reames says they often leave food, like fried chicken, in the original box unrefrigerated for several hours, or even all day.

Foods that donít require refrigeration include peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hard cheeses, unopened canned meats or canned fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, cookies, crackers, chips, breads, fruit pies and fruit juices.

If you depend on street vendors for food, check to see if their concession stands have the facilities to keep their hamburgers and hot dogs refrigerated before cooking and hot after cooking.

Look at how clean their equipment appears and if the handlersí practices are sanitary.