Food safety lesson after workers get food poisoning

Published: Nov. 13, 2014 at 11:34 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 13, 2014 at 11:34 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The U.S. Postal service says there are still five people in the hospital being treated for food poisoning after a potluck meal at a Charlotte distribution center Wednesday night went badly.

The Veterans Day potluck ended with several cases of food poisoning at the West Pointe Drive post office and sorting center. Fifteen employees were taken to hospitals.

The workers brought in food to share, and after it sat out for awhile Wednesday morning, they put it back in the fridge.

After eating it a day later, they became ill. Now, health officials are investigating what went wrong.

With holiday season just around the corner, certified safety specialists explain what everyone can do to avoid food poisoning.

Some things coming out of the fridge are obviously past their prime.

"We already know what's wrong with this one. You can see it right there," said Terra Baltosiewich, a certified professional in food safety, as she looked at pasta she pulled from a refrigerator. "That's called mold."

But Baltosiewich said sometimes it won't be so obvious.

"We're looking at handling, we're looking at how they're cooling it," Baltosiewich said.

Bacteria can grow on food. That's why it can't sit out.

"If you go longer than the four hours those spores that were potentially there were growing very very slowly in the four hours, very minimal. But right after the fours hours is when they start rapidly growing," said Baltosiewich.

She says people shouldn't avoid potlucks or the holidays, but they need to be careful with leftovers.

"If I had it out longer than four hours, I'd just discard it," said Baltosiewich.

Jessica Perry, a senior environmental health specialist with Mecklenburg County agreed.

"If your holiday dinners or group or office parties, you just want to make sure everyone understands let's refrigerate this food until we need it," Perry said.

She said when serving, hot foods need to be hot and cold foods need to be cold. Perry said during food preparation wash your hands often. And eaters standing in the buffet line need to use utensils.

"Don't touch the food with your bare hands. That's the big one," Perry said.

As for leftovers, if they are handled properly and kept in the fridge, you have up to seven days to enjoy them.

The Mecklenburg County Health Department food inspectors believe the incident at the Post Office in Charlotte is an isolated incident.

A full investigation is being conducted to determine the cause.

To visit the FDA's website on food safety, click here.

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