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Spoiled food may be behind NYC illnesses

A meat market employee in New York points to hundreds of pounds of spoiled food Sunday.
A meat market employee in New York points to hundreds of pounds of spoiled food Sunday.

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- There may be a new casualty of last week's blackout that left much of the Northeastern United States without power -- the digestive tracts of the people of New York.

The New York Department of Health on Sunday reported a "higher-than-usual" number of visits to emergency rooms for diarrheal illnesses.

"While we do not know the specific cause of this spike in diarrheal illnesses, it is possible that it was caused by spoiled food eaten at home or elsewhere," said Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden. "This underscores the need to make sure that food that spoiled during the power outage is not consumed and is thrown out if there is any doubt as to its safety."

While Michigan residents are still being asked to boil their water before drinking it and Cleveland has lifted a similar advisory, New York's water supply has tested safe and is not a factor in the intestinal mischief in the city, the health department said.

The department suggested these food safety guidelines:

• Perishable, refrigerated foods that have been without refrigeration and at more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours should be discarded. Refrigerated foods that should be discarded include meat (red meat, chicken, seafood), hot dogs, bacon, pizza, open canned meats, soft cheeses, milk, yogurt, eggs or egg dishes, fresh cut fruits, opened mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, creamy salad dressings, opened tomato sauces, biscuits, rolls, cookie dough, cooked pasta, pasta salads, cheesecake, cream-filled pastries, cooked vegetables, baked potatoes, and potato salad.

• Any perishable food that has thawed for more than 2 hours, and is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit -- whether from the refrigerator or the freezer -- should be discarded.

• Food items that can be kept for a limited period of time without refrigeration include: hard, processed cheeses, like cheddar, Swiss, Parmesan, provolone and Romano; butter, margarine; opened fruit juices, opened canned fruits, peanut butter, jellies and mustards, opened vinegar-based dressings; and breads, rolls, cakes, muffins, breads, waffles, pancakes, bagels, pies, fruit, herbs, spices, and raw vegetables.

• Any food items discarded should be disposed of in double-bagged plastic garbage bags and should be well-tied or in sealed plastic containers or sealed plastic bags.

• After the power returned, it was OK to refreeze frozen foods that still contained ice crystals and felt cold. These include beef, veal, poultry and ground meats, fish, shellfish, seafood products, egg products, soft and hard cheese, casseroles, juices, fruits, vegetables, cakes, pies, pastries, flours, cornmeal, and frozen meals.

• As a general rule, a well-functioning freezer that was unopened and at least half full will have kept foods cold for about 24 hours.

• Use common sense and evaluate each item separately.


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