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Burgers, Slaw -- and Salmonella

Burgers, Slaw -- and Salmonella

By Milton Lakin
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Gary Vogin

Summer in Iowa ... ahh, there's nothing like it. High temperatures and high humidities -- neither of which seem to wither the spirits of hearty Iowans. Parks are filled with large family picnics, where good food is always a major attraction. Fried chicken, burgers on the grill, and Grandma's homemade potato salad are a must.

Once upon a time the only bugs we had to fret about were ants and centipedes marching across the tablecloth. Now we worry about the kinds of bugs that are transmitted in foods. They are a lot smaller and potentially a lot more dangerous ... with creepy names like Campylobacter and E. coli 0157:H7.

There are plenty to be concerned about. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are more than 200 diseases that can be spread through food. In a report in the September 1999 issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, approximately 76 million food-borne illnesses -- resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths -- occur in the United States each year.

The outbreaks can strike almost anywhere. And they spread very quickly. One such outbreak of food poisoning struck the small town of Oskaloosa in southern Iowa. It was a Thursday evening in November of 1996 and about 1,000 people (nearly 10% of the town's population) had attended an annual church dinner. Soon after eating the turkey dinner, people started getting sick. The culprit: Salmonella. Before the weekend was over more than 200 people became ill, 60 were seen in local emergency rooms, and 21 were hospitalized. Officials felt lucky that no one died.