Beware the poisoned picnic!

dos dontsBy Helen Gougeon,

Weekend Magazine, July 10 1954

You might be packing trouble in that hamper of food, for right now is the staphylococcus season.

This is the time of year when thousands of picnic hampers full of minced-ham sandwiches, potato salad and staph are making their way to the cottage or the beach. That last ingredient is the uninvited guest at many picnics because it is an insidious and busy little agent which poisons everyone who eats contaminated food.

Now, don’t let me discourage you from going on a picnic, but there are a number of things to remember when you are preparing food in hot weather. The microbiology section of the Food and Drug Division of the Department of National Health and Welfare comes up with advice on how not to make a potato salad for a picnic to ensure your family’s safe return from the country.

The food in which staphylococcus germs appear most commonly are bakery products containing creamery or custard-type fillings; a variety of meat pies or custard pipes; salads, particularly those mixed with home-made mayonnaise or salad dressing; meat dishes, particularly those that are re-used more than once; sandwiches, mainly meat and egg ones which have been kept in the kitchen for some hours after being prepared, and a wide range of foods which may have been prepared from unpasteurized milk or cream.

One of the real dangers is the fact that many families who move from a house in the city to a cottage in the country forget that the icebox on the back porch isn’t as effective as the refrigerator in the city. Meat received very fresh and kept in a good icebox must be eaten  within 48 hours, with the exception of smoked and salted meat, which can be kept for longer periods.

During hot weather, ham should not be kept in an electric or similar type of refrigerator more than eight or ten days. If it is preserved in a refrigerator using natural ice, it should not be kept more than four or five days.

Particular care must be taken with prepared meats such as sausages, patties and ground meat. These should be kept in a cold place for a very short time.

Lobster and crab, because the meat is soft and delicate and is broken into small pieces, is vulnerable to contamination. Leftovers should not be left on the table after dinner but should be refrigerated right away. They should be heated before serving again – it isn’t enough to merely warm them over.

Foods with a heavy concentration of salt, acid or sugar are usually free from contamination. Staples such as ketchup, pickles, vinegar, mustard, ham and peanut butter may be safely stored on a closet shelf. Even mayonnaise may be stores on a shelf, because it contains vinegar, but after it has been applied to a non-acid food like ham or chicken, the vinegar loses its punch and the staph germs will flourish unless the food is put in a refrigerator.

Sauces should be prepared just before eating. At a church picnic not so long ago, 38 persons became ill when they are a delicious spaghetti meat sauce. The cook had kept the sauce hot over a low flame for eight hours, but the trouble was that, although the sauce was hot at the bottom of the pot, it was only lukewarm at the surface and the staph germs were multiplying like rabbits. Hollandaise sauce is the most dangerous of all sauces. Warm eggs, melted butter and heavy cream are a delight to the staph germ, and the only sure way of keeping your guests in a healthy state is to serve the sauce the minute it is made.

Canned or cured ham needs as careful refrigeration as uncooked meat. Liverwurst, salami and bologna need refrigeration, too, in spite of their tight skins. Sugar- or smoke-cured hams will not spoil easily, it is true, but as they are handled more than steaks or lamb chops, the chances of infection by germs are as great.

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