As the Super Bowl approaches, football fans everywhere begin to gear up to pick their favorite game plays, enjoy their favorite tailgate foods, and, of course, offer commentary on the halftime show and commercials. Before you snatch up those “pigs-in-blankets,” start making a grocery list for your famous deviled eggs, or (worst of all) lick your fingers and then grab another chip from the community bowl, take a few minutes to think about how the environment of your Super Bowl party will affect what you decide to eat. As United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) deputy undersecretary for food safety, Al Almanza, noted in a public health alert on the topic of Sunday’s big annual football event, “A long game and a big crowd means more opportunities for food poisoning.”
Before you let the USDA rain on your parade, however, remember that food poisoning is actually one of the easiest illnesses to avoid because you can control your level of risk to a very high degree. Here are three things to be aware of when grocery shopping this Saturday and handling food and meal-prep this Sunday:
- Don’t Forget to “Heat the Meat” Undercooked and room-temperature meat represents an absolute stew of bacterial threats, including Campylobacter, one of four “leading causes of diarrhea” in the world according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Another threat is Staphylococcus aureus, which can be found on the skin of about one in four healthy individuals and animals, but is capable of causing food poisoning if allowed to grow on unrefrigerated or uncooked meats. “Foods at the highest risk of transmitting Staph toxins are those that people handle and then do not cook,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Examples of high-risk foods include deli meats, pastries, and sandwiches. Staph contamination does not cause meat to appear “spoiled,” which makes that potentially contaminated “super sub” sandwich even more likely to create gastrointestinal havoc in your party guests in the days following the big game because no one will know if, or when, it goes bad.
- Even “Healthy Foods” Can Hide Hazards Think that sticking with alfalfa and fruit will help you keep the pounds off and eliminate food-poisoning worries? Think again. “Raw and lightly-cooked sprouts of any kind” are actually prime real estate for the Listeria bacterium as well as Salmonella and E. coli, according to the CDC. Melons and even strawberries have also been sources of Listeria outbreaks in the past 12 months, with cut melons left out at room temperature posing a particular threat. Of course, deli meats and hot dogs that are left out can quickly evolve into a health hazard as well. All of these bacteria cause varying levels of gastrointestinal distress depending on each individual’s sensitivity and how much they consume.
- Buy Soap and Sanitizer in Bulk Given that most food-borne illnesses are actually transmitted from person-to-person as a result of poor hand hygiene rather than due to food being contaminated at time of purchase, one of the best things you can do for your guests is to encourage all of them to keep their hands clean, especially before they serve themselves some tasty snacks. In addition to providing soap in your bathroom, consider splurging on some hand sanitizer to keep near the paper plates and at the drink station. This simple move could help prevent an oblivious guest from spreading norovirus, and even the flu, both of which are spread through physical or near-direct contact with an infected person.
Norovirus is particularly likely to spread via food service, while high-fiving an individual infected with influenza but not yet feeling sick and then rubbing your eye could result in a nasty influenza infection. “This year’s dominant flu virus strain is A(H3N2), which is particularly deadly,” Charles Stoecker, PhD, a professor of Global Health Management and Policy at Tulane University, told Contagion®. He added, “This underscores the necessity of protection: get your flu shot, wash your hands, and try to stay home if you’re [already] sick.”
Now that you’re fully aware of the staggering potential for infection lurking in that yummy-looking appetizer, you might be thinking about implementing a traditional, annual fast the day of the big game to support your favorite team. Don’t let food-borne infection ruin your Super Bowl fun! Instead, be alert and responsive to potential health threats on that catering table, then kick back and crack open a cold one. After all, the CDC “Travelers’ Health” guide indicates that it is unlikely you’ll get food poisoning from beer.