There’s a less welcome aspect of spring that sneaks in with Jalisco’s sunshine and heat.
Gastro-intestinal illnesses are the most common reason for seeking medical attention at this time of year. And the microbes that cause them thrive in the season’s warmer temperatures.
Last week, the Jalisco Health Department slapped a closure order on a chicken rotisserie outlet in Tlajomulco after more than 50 diners were recently taken ill. Tests showed that it was not the chicken that caused the problem, but E. coli found in the complimentary salsas (sauces) served at the restaurant.
In the past decade, independent studies performed by the University of Texas and the Jalisco Secretariat of Health (SSJ) have shown that half or more of salsa samples taken at Guadalajara eateries are routinely contaminated with a form of Escherchia coli (E. coli).
E. coli, a common cause of traveler’s diarrhea, is a pathogen that is naturally found in the human stomach. However, there are six different strands of E. coli, some more harmful than others. Physical illness may or may not set in depending on the type and amount of E. coli taken into the body. It is possible, in extreme cases, to die from E. coli infection. E. coli and other ingested bacteria can be especially dangerous to those with already weakened immune systems, such as people with cancer or AIDS.
The hot season is a good time to eat at home in Mexico. High temperatures – daily above 30 degrees Celsius and sometimes as high as 40 in urban areas due to the concrete effect – cause meat to spoil and germs to proliferate at street stands.
Many cases of diarrhea are caused by spoiled foods but the trots are also a symptom of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Aside from avoiding daytime taco stands, health authorities recommend to stay out of the sun and drink lots of water during the heat.
On the street, in restaurants
If you must eat out, here are some basic precautions:
• Use your eyes – if the dining area is dirty you can assume that the kitchen is not clean either.
• Do not eat salsas that are at the table when you arrive, only those that are brought to you after you have been seated.
• Taste a small amount of the salsa to see if it has been refrigerated.
• Avoid drinking aguas frescas (flavored water) sold on the street and unpasteurized dairy products.
• Buy only reputable brands of bottled water.
• Avoid eating in places where the person who prepares food also takes money.
• If you’re worried about the quality of an eating establishment, order your drinks without ice.
• Do not eat raw fish or seafood, especially ceviche or fish “cooked” in lime juice.
• Avoid raw or under-cooked meat.
• Avoid buffet-style restaurants.
• Wash hands before meals, after using the restroom, and after being on the street.
In the home
In the home, you can spare yourself a great deal of suffering with some basic prevention.
• Wash and disinfect fruits and veggies.
• Wash your hands regularly.
* Don’t use dirty dishes or utensils.
• Store foods away from open air and dust.
• Protect food from all insects.
• Keep trash tightly sealed.
• Choose fresh, well-stored food.
• Disinfect all fruits and vegetables.
• Verify that canned goods are in good condition (a popped-up lid is a sign of bacterial contamination and lack of a seal).
• Wash meats, fowl, fish and seafood before cooking.
• Refrigerate all perishable products promptly.
If you do get sick, drink plenty of fluids and carefully monitor your symptoms. Make sure you seek prompt medical attention if there is no improvement.