How Andy ate green mayo and fell into the ivy patch - (5/31/2022)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

The pharmacist and his family were enjoying an afternoon picnic in the park. The sky was cloudless, and the air was a perfect 72 degrees. Among the family members were aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, and cousins. Everyone brought food. Life was good. That is until Andy made himself a sandwich. The pharmacist watched Andy as he piled on the turkey, salami, and cheese. Then, he slathered the bread with Aunt Tillie's homemade mayonnaise, grabbed a cola, and sat in the sun to catch a tan and enjoy his lunch. Later on, Andy was clutching his gurgling stomach, rolling on the grass, and groaning. His face was as green as Tillie's time bomb. Looks like food poisoning! ?

Each year, about 1 in 6 Americans (50 million) are socked with food poisoning, aka foodborne disease. Of these, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of this condition, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Indeed, food may become contaminated by a slew of agents – bacteria, viruses, parasites, and chemicals. In addition, transmission can occur by nonfood mechanisms (e.g., contact with animals or drinking beverages made with contaminated water). And not all food poisoning is due to picnics gone wrong. They can happen anywhere along the food production line, from field to family. 

Which are the riskiest foods? Raw or undercooked chicken, turkey, beef, pork, eggs, and seafood are usually the culprits. Fruits and vegetables also may become tainted. Often, by the time a food causes illness, it has been mishandled in several ways along the food production chain. Once contamination occurs, further mishandling, such as leaving it unrefrigerated, can make illness more likely. Many germs multiply rapidly in food held at room temperature in just a few hours. Even reheating or boiling food after it has been left at room temperature does not always make it safe. This problem is due to the ability of some germs to produce toxins that are not destroyed by heat.

Is mayonnaise the true boogie man of the outdoor picnic? Often, people surmise that mayo is the cause of food poisoning when mixed with chicken, tuna, egg salad, or lunch meats. However, the danger depends on the source of that dressing. Store-bought mayo is made with lemon or vinegar – both acidic and bacteria-controlling. Homemade mayo, such as Aunt Tillie's, is made from raw egg yolks, the perfect medium for bacterial growth. Typically, the meats in a salad or sandwich left out of the fridge or cooler for more than two hours cause the problems. Aunt Tillie's mayo – God bless her! – has an outdoor lifespan of 30 minutes before it becomes a petri dish. 

A few pointers: Keep food off the ground. Otherwise, you will discover that those really aren't chocolate sprinkles on Cousin Velma's cupcakes (Ants! Ants! Ants! They come a-marching!). And for Pete's sake, stay hydrated. Uncle Pete is on his sixth beer. The pharmacist has seen him going into the woods to "water the ferns." But is he peeing out the same amount as he is swilling? If one drinks 8 ounces of beer, one will excrete 13 ounces of fluid, say those who measure such things. So, over the course of the afternoon, Pete will be at a fluid deficit. Pete may soon develop the signs of dehydration: vomiting, diarrhea, fainting – especially dangerous in an older adult. 

But back to poor Andy, who is now face down in a nearby poison ivy patch. The pharmacist does have loperamide in his first aid kit for Andy's diarrhea. He also gave Andy a ginger ale to settle his tummy. "I think I'm going to live," said Andy. "Maybe," replied the pharmacist. "That was poison ivy you were wallowing in. Better wash your face with soap and hot water right now. And see me at the pharmacy tomorrow before your face looks and feels like bubbling quicksand." Summer can be brutal if you aren't on the defense! 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist and writer-in-residence at Rx-Press.

The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.



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