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BBQ Food Safety: July 06, 2011

Josh Feliciano is the ‘grill-master’, flipping burgers for a crowd of close friends.

“They liked it the first time so I guess I’m stuck to it now.”

Nothing spoils a summer barbeque like a bout of food poisoning. The CDC estimates like 200,000 Americans contract food-borne illness everyday; 4 out of 5 cases come from home cooking.

“Certainly there’s a tendency to relax when you’re in a less stratified environment such as a barbeque,” says Larry Altier.

Larry Altier oversees food service for Lee Memorial Health System. He says food safety begins well before mealtime.

“The critical key is to keep your products refrigerated prior to use.”

Among the dirtiest barbeque foods: chicken and hamburger, two staples at most cookouts, both notorious for carrying bacteria including salmonella in chicken and staphylococcus and listeria in ground beef.

 Even Josh knows to cook thoroughly.

“I’ll make sure its well done cause a lot of people don’t like it medium rare when it’s outdoor food.”

When someone gets a stomach bug they are more likely to chalk it up to the meat they ate rather than consider the vegetables or fruit they downed at the same sitting.

Take cantaloupe; its bumpy surface can harbor bacteria. When an unwashed melon is sliced, any bacteria are pushed by the knife into the fruit. And think twice about pre-washed bags of lettuce and spinach.

“In the case of a leafy vegetable even if it states it’s pre-washed, I would recommend that you wash it prior to use,” says Altier.

The biggest surprise may be tiny chopped scallions. They’ve been know to carry bacteria and parasites.

“That little cavity inside that scallion can harbor pathogens and it’s very difficult to wash out,” says Altier.

Oysters, another party favorite, are known to carry the dreaded norovirus along with vibrio vulnificus, which can be deadly.

“Any raw protein like a mollusk or oyster, even steak tartar there’s an inherent risk,” says Altier