Cooked mussels in a white bowl

Wild mushrooms, raw seafood, and uncooked meat. Sounds like the ingredients for a yummy bouillabaisse; or it could be a recipe for disaster. If you’re travelling abroad or cooking at home, there are certain food safety precautions you should take. Whether it’s raw clams, wild mushrooms or your favorite chicken dish, proper cleaning, cooking and refrigeration temperatures can stop bacteria and parasites from growing.

Here’s what you need to know about food safety at home and while you’re away.

Wild Mushrooms and Plants in Alberta

While most people love eating raw mushrooms and local greens in their salad, certain mushrooms and plants can include the eggs of a tapeworm. And, the rare, parasitic infection has been found in Alberta. The parasite comes in the form of a tapeworm, Echinococcus multilocularis. In humans, it causes growths that resemble tumours that develop on the liver and it can be deadly if left untreated. There have been about 13 reported cases in Alberta within five years which is causing researchers to be concerned. The strain isn’t limited to travellers either.

Tapeworms from Dogs, Coyotes and Foxes

The tapeworm is possibly coming from dogs (North America), foxes (Europe) and coyotes. And, this next section isn’t for the squeamish. When these animals defecate, they shed the tapeworm’s eggs. This is then eaten by rodents who become hosts for the larvae of the tapeworm. The rodents are then consumed by the dogs, coyotes and foxes. Humans can ingest the eggs of the tapeworm if they eat contaminated mushrooms or plants.

Symptoms and Treatment

Once the parasite affects the liver, it spreads similar to cancer. But, the concern for humans is that symptoms take as long as 15 years to develop. People with immunosuppressed systems are particularly vulnerable. The person might not know they have the parasite unless they start developing pain or jaundice. The cysts can sometimes be discovered if the person is having a scan for something unrelated.

Surgery can remove the cysts and anti-parasitic medicine can be administered albeit the person might have to take it for the rest of their lives. The infection is rare but people should always carefully wash wild mushrooms or any items they pick up from their gardens. It’s also advised that they thoroughly wash their hands after coming into contact with their dogs.

Raw Seafood Concerns

People have been enjoying raw seafood for years but a growing concern is foodborne illnesses. Contaminated raw seafood can cause severe diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. To avoid getting sick or developing food poisoning, cook any raw seafood to it’s recommended temperature. This is advised for oysters in the U.S. and elsewhere to avoid the bacteria Vibrio vulnificus which can be found in warm bodies of seawater.

Norovirus and Parasites like Tapeworms

Other concerns are Norovirus and parasites. Norovirus is highly contagious and it can come from raw oysters and some shellfish. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and chills. Symptoms can start anywhere from 12 hours to one to two days after ingestion.

Parasites can be found in fish that’s undercooked. Parasites like tapeworms can come from raw and undercooked salmon, trout, and cod. If the person develops a tapeworm, they may experience symptoms of low energy and anemia. To treat the person, tapeworms need to be surgically removed. Ensuring fish is thoroughly cooked can prevent parasites and reduce the risk of getting sick.

Raw Seafood Food Safety Tips

Old myths like adding hot sauce or alcohol don’t work to kill the bacteria in raw seafood. Fish should be cooked at 62.77 degrees celsius. When the flesh turns an opaque colour and begins to separate, if you pierce it with a fork, then it should be safe to eat.

With mussels, clams, and oysters, cook them until their shells open. Discard shells that don’t open. If choosing to eat raw fish, go with a pre-frozen version as freezing can kill the bacteria and parasites but not every organism that’s harmful to humans if ingested.

Who Should Avoid Raw Seafood

Foodborne contaminants in undercooked or raw seafood may cause life-threatening illnesses. For the people at-risk, any seafood they have like shellfish or fish should be thoroughly cooked. But, some people shouldn’t have raw seafood.

These include:

  • People with compromised immune systems
  • Women that are pregnant
  • Infants and children
  • The elderly

Tips on Buying and Cooking Seafood

Planning on making your own seafood dish or heading to a new seafood restaurant?

Here are a few tips.

Storing raw seafood

  • When purchasing raw seafood, ensure it stays properly stored. It should be refrigerated at temperatures under 4.4-degrees Celsius.
  • When transporting it home, pack it with ice in bags so it doesn’t reach room temperature. If it’s slimy or has a fishy smell to it, it may not be good.
  • Store fish in an air-tight container in the refrigerator and use it within two days or less.
  • Keep any crabs, lobster, crawfish, clams, mussels or oysters in a ventilated container. They should be stored in the refrigerator under 4.4-degrees Celsius.

Cooking raw seafood

  • Shrimp should be cooked until they turn a pink colour and lobster shells should turn red. The flesh of lobsters should be opaque and firm. Scallops should be cooked until they’re opaque and firm when pressed with a fork.
  • When cooking with raw seafood, use a separate cutting board and knife.
  • Wash your hands after preparing any raw seafood.

Dining out

  • If dining out and having raw seafood, only do so at reputable markets and restaurants that adhere to food safety guidelines.
  • Know that you’re at risk any time you ingest clams, raw oysters, gravlax, crudo and sushi. Other foods to take caution with include sashimi, ceviche, poke and tuna carpaccio or tuna tartare.
  • Read the restaurant reviews. People usually post complaints online if a restaurant had a food safety problem. You can also check online for any health code violations the restaurant has.

Meat Safety

With raw meat like pork, lamb, and beef, different types of bacteria can grow. These include E. coli, clostridium perfringens, salmonella and campylobacter jejuni. To avoid the bacteria growing on raw meat, refrigerate it as soon as you return from the store.

Cook meat thoroughly based on the recommended heating temperatures. If a recipe states to let the meat rest for three minutes, for example, follow the instructions as it might affect the internal cooking time. Once you cook meat, eat it promptly and never leave it out. Meat can develop the bacteria, C. perfringens, if left unrefrigerated.

Poultry

When cooking with poultry like duck, chicken, and turkey, there are specific bacteria pathogens to avoid. Campylobacter and listeria are two types of bacteria that can come from raw poultry. Some researchers say not to wash raw poultry beforehand as you can spread bacteria. Cook all poultry to it’s recommended temperature and store it in the refrigerator. Never leave it at room temperature where bacteria can grow.

Tips on Buying and Cooking Meat

It’s important to take caution with raw meat as it can quickly develop bacteria if left unrefrigerated. It’s also important to prepare meat properly to avoid contaminants.

Here are a few tips:

  • Never buy meat past its expiration date.
  • Take caution with meat that’s close to its expiration date.
  • If you’re doing major grocery shopping, pick out meat last so it’s not sitting in your shopping cart unrefrigerated.
  • Avoid buying or eating pork or beef that’s brown or looks discoloured. If it has a strong smell or looks slimy, don’t buy it. Don’t buy meat if the packaging is torn or if it’s leaking.
  • With poultry, avoid buying it if it smells. If it looks or feels slimy like it has a gel on it, it might not be good.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly when preparing meat and especially with chicken. Keep raw meat away from other utensils and prep it on a separate cooking surface.
  • At restaurants, on cruise ships, and at events, only eat meat if it’s at the proper temperature. Buffets that serve cooked meat should have the dishes on heated burners and it should be kept hot. Cold meats should be on ice and should be cold to the touch. Never consume meat that has been left sitting out.

Protect Your Health At Home and Abroad

You can’t always tell how someone is going to cook their food but you can safeguard your health. Only dine at restaurants that follow strict food guidelines whether you’re dining locally or abroad. When cooking seafood and meat, follow all recommended cooking temperatures. And, if you’re going to be away and dining out, purchase travel insurance. It’s added reassurance should something unexpected happen. It can include coverage for medical visits and flight interruptions if you have to change your travel plans.

With RateSupermarket.ca, you can compare travel insurance rates from Canada’s leading insurance providers.

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