Warning: Don't read this if you have eaten something after a fly has landed on it

Outdoor picnic and barbecue season is also fly season. And the more you learn about these disgusting germ carriers the less you want them anywhere near your food. First of all, flies develop -- starting as slimy maggots -- in decaying organic material, especially animal manure, which should be the first reason you want to keep them away. Second, a series of Kansas State University studies have found some disturbing information about what they transfer to your food when they land on it. Most disturbing is that the first studies were conducted in five fast-food restaurants. (Translation: If you see flies zipping inside a fast-food restaurant you might want to turn around and leave.) The first study found that they can transfer antibiotic-resistant and potentially virulent bacteria to your food, according to entomology researchers Ludek Zurek and Lilia Macovei in the 2006 study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Of the houseflies they found in the restaurants, 97 percent tested positive for the bacteria Enterococcus faecalis, a bacteria that is resistant to many antibiotics -- tetracycline, erythromycin, streptomycin and others -- but also can cause life-threatening infections, especially among hospital patients. Moreover, the researchers say that the flies also can carry salmonella or other pathogens. At the fast-food restaurants, it wasn't the food waiting to be cooked that was at risk. Flies made a beeline to prepared foods ready to be served because they are attracted to sugar and protein. "While it is more of a nuisance issue, it is a public safety and hygiene issue as well," Dr. Zurek said at the time.

While the researchers called for a higher standard of fly control in restaurants, it's also a lesson to take to your outdoor picnic or barbecue, as demonstrated by their most recent study, published in February. When they left a cooked beef patty exposed to flies for 30 minutes, it became contaminated with the virulent bacteria. The longer it was exposed, the higher concentration of contamination. So, securely cover food that's waiting to be served at your outing and be vigilant in swatting away the flies. And do what you can to keep flies away from the area. Remember, they grow in decaying garbage and other unmentionable material. Credit: Virginia Linn, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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