Summer in Manitoba means plenty of fun outdoor events. From small local fairs to the Red River Ex in Winnipeg, people consume a great deal of food from temporary venues. The tasty offerings vary, but all vendors must meet the criteria set by the local health inspector’s office to protect the public from foodborne illnesses.
The majority of food poisoning cases comes from viruses, such as the Noroviruses and Hepatitis A. Bacteria and parasites account for most of the others. Bacteria can infect intestines or they can cause chemical reactions within food, producing toxins that can be deadly to humans. Toxic agents are the least common and usually result from poor food selection or preparation, such as incorrectly identifying wild mushrooms or not washing pesticide residue from produce.
It can be difficult to determine where a case of food poisoning has been contracted. Symptoms may appear anywhere from within 30 minutes to 70 days of eating, depending on the contaminant and the individual’s health. Symptoms — lasting from days to weeks — can vary, but commonly include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever. Most cases are not serious, but the very young, the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions are at the highest risk of severe reactions.
The potential for food poisoning is said to be greater in our own homes as the average person is not trained in proper food-handling techniques. Food at our fairs and festivals can be enjoyed due to the efforts of the Manitoba Government’s Public Health Office to ensure rigorous standards are followed. No system is perfect, however, so here are a few things you can do to remain healthy:
- Wash your hands before touching your food. Hand sanitizer, even with 99.99 per cent alcohol content, is not a replacement for handwashing. Its germ-killing properties are not effective through grime such as dirt or blood. Not all pathogens come from the other side of the counter. Livestock displays, handrails, doorknobs and numerous other public areas are major sources of contamination. Even your cellphone can harbour bacteria.
- Ask before you order if you do not see a permit from the local public health inspector. All food service establishments must display one. To obtain it, a form indicating what they are serving, equipment used to chill, heat and hold over food, sanitation practices, and where they have obtained food products must be submitted prior to opening.
- Ask to have your burger cut in half if you are worried about undercooked meat. This is an especially good idea for young children who might not realize if a hamburger patty is not fully cooked.
- Return food to the vendor if it does not taste, smell or look right. Throwing it out will not alert them to a potential problem and others may become ill.
- Quietly and politely mention it to a staff member if you see an instance of poor sanitation or food handling (prevention, not confrontation, is the goal). Training and guidelines posted where workers can read them should be available, but people working in temporary settings that are raising funds for local charities are often volunteers. Being vigilant from the perspective of public safety is not often second nature.
Public health requirements vary according to the type of vendor. For more information on guidelines for farmers’ markets, special events, mobile units, pushcarts and temporary enterprises that are open for 14 days or less in one location visit https://www.gov.mb.ca/health/pub lichealth/environmentalhealth/protec tion/food.html.