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How much are you willing to pay for your holiday feasting?

The good news is that the cost of a holiday barbecue isn’t any more expensive this Independence Day than it was in 2017, the bad news is the potential for paying the high price of food poisoning also remains the same. 

“A cookout of Americans’ favorite foods for the Fourth of July, including hot dogs, cheeseburgers, pork spare ribs, potato salad, baked beans, lemonade and chocolate milk, will cost slightly less this year, coming in at less than $6 per person,” according to a news release from the American Farm Bureau Federation.

To feed 10 people with that menu is estimated at $55 based on an informal Farm Bureau survey. That’s down less than 1 percent from the bureau’s estimated cost for 2017 summer cookouts.

Depending on the pathogen involved and the severity of illnesses, a serving of food poisoning can easily cost 100,000 times more than the $6 per plate cost for the holiday meal.

Even when safe handling and preparation rules are followed, foodborne bacteria can easily grow in dishes made by hand that require no additional cooking, according to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Those foods include potato and egg salads, cream pies, sandwiches and meats. 

The danger increases during transportation and after the first round of a meal when they are left out for those who want “seconds.” 

For food consumer resources on keeping your Fourth of July celebrations safe, visit USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service for a variety of tips on safe cooking temperatures and necessary refrigeration temperatures.

“One of the most common causes of food poisoning is the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, which produces a wide range of toxins, including staphylococcal enterotoxin type E — associated with outbreaks in the United States and other countries,” according to the research service.

Every year foodborne illnesses infect an estimated 1 in 6 Americans — 48 million — get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those sickened, staphylococcal food poisoning causes an estimated 240,000 illnesses, 1,000 hospitalizations, and 6 deaths annually.

“A USDA scientist developed a test that specifically detects Staphylococcus aureus in foods. The new test is faster, more sensitive and less expensive than standard tests,” the Agricultural Research Services reports.

The current test detects the active toxin only 50 percent of the time, compared to the new test, which detects it 99 percent of the time,  says USDA chemist Reuven Rasooly, said in the news release. 

“The new test also detects toxins within 5 hours compared to 48 to 72 hours for other tests,” he said.

In addition, the new test can distinguish between active toxin, which poses a threat to public health, and inactive toxin, which does not. The test is not yet commercially available. The ARS has applied for a patent and plans to use it to develop additional tests that detect other foodborne toxins that make people sick.

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