Peak barbecue season is well underway, which means there’s a spike in the amount of time meat lovers are spending behind the grill. At the same time, health officials say they see a spike in the number of food-borne illnesses reported in Alberta.
“It’s a noticeable rise,” said Dr. Chris Sikora, medical officer of health for AHS in Edmonton Zone. “Every year we do see increases… things like campylobacter, salmonella, E. coli.
“Most of those illnesses do come from food sources… from undercooked or not properly prepared meats.”
According to Health Canada’s latest numbers, every year a total of about four million Canadians are affected by a food-borne illness, resulting in 11,600 hospitalizations and 238 deaths.
Andrew Bull says he learned his lesson about food safety after he became seriously ill from what he believes was a food-borne illness in 2009.
He said he was barbecuing pork skewers and while he cooked them properly, believes he did something wrong.
“(I) probably just used a cutting board one too many times or maybe I reused a plate that I shouldn’t have,” he said. “Within about 24 hours, it started off with some terrible cramping and then the next three days, it escalated from there…some intestinal dysfunction… which led to just a ridiculous amount of dehydration. I lost 20 pounds (in one day).
“When in doubt, just be overzealous. Yeah you might have a couple of extra dishes, but your intestines will thank you.”
Sikora says it’s important to remind people preparing meats of some simple steps they can take to reduce the risk of food-related illness.
He says when handling raw foods, people need to remember to “isolate” them.
“You have to actually set them aside and have your own cutting board, have your own utensils (like knives) but also their own special food cleanup procedure. And that’s usually detergent, absolutely, but sometimes bleach might be an important thing to have.”
Sikora says another common cause of food-related illness is consuming meats that aren’t properly cooked. He says people cooking meat until it turns a certain colour should take further precautions.
“That’s not usually enough,” he says. “What Health Canada recommends is that you cook to appropriate meat temperatures and that means going out and having a meat thermometer. They’re inexpensive.”
According to Sikora, people should ensure they’re not providing potentially harmful organisms with an opportunity to grow. That means keeping “cold food at 4 C in your fridge for as long as you can prior to serving” and hot food at 70 C.
Sikora says handwashing is just as important as the other steps to take for preventing food-related illnesses. He recommends washing hands with hot water and soap for 20 to 30 seconds.
Health Canada has list of steps you can take to make sure you’re barbecuing your meats safely. To see the suggestions, click here.
-With files from Su-Ling Goh