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Summer: The Season of Food Poisoning
When you think of summer, what comes to mind? We immediately think about backyard BBQs and picnics with family and friends, little cousins running around, and of course, a massive buffet table loaded with delicious food. One of the best things about the summer is finally getting to enjoy the warm weather outside, especially since we've been in quarantine since March. Hosting or attending BBQs and picnics outdoors can be a great way to get out while staying safe. However, rising temperatures can also bring certain food safety risks. During the hot summer months, the chances of food poisoning increase because bacteria multiply faster in warmer temperatures, and preparing food outdoors makes safe food handling more difficult. That's why we want to help you enjoy National Picnic Month and the remainder of Summer by sharing with you a few simple food safety steps.
4 Steps to Food Safety
Summer consists of people cooking outdoors while at picnics, barbecues, and on camping trips. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the safety controls that an indoor kitchen provides, such as thermostat-controlled cooking, refrigeration, and convenient washing facilities, are usually not available. But following these four simple steps — Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill — can help protect you and your loved ones from food poisoning.
Clean hands and produce
Unwashed or improperly washed hands and surfaces can quickly spread germs and cause foodborne illness.
• Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets.
• When eating away from home, find out if there's a potable (safe drinking) water. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning or pack clean, wet, disposable washcloths, moist towelettes, and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.
• Wash fresh vegetables and lettuce. If you're not sure whether water will be available to wash on site, rinse produce before packing.
• Examine the grill surface carefully for bristles that might have dropped off the grill brush. They could get into your cooked food and hurt you if swallowed.
Improper handling of food, kitchen tools, and surfaces can cause microorganisms to transfer from raw to cooked food. Cross-contamination during preparation, grilling, and serving food is a prime cause of foodborne illness. You never want bacteria from raw meat or seafood to contaminate other foods, surfaces, or utensils.
• When packing the cooler for an outing, wrap raw meats, poultry, and fish securely and separately to keep their juices from other food.
• Never place cooked food on the same plate that previously held raw food unless it has been washed in hot, soapy water.
• Throw away or thoroughly cook marinades and sauces that have touched raw meat or seafood.
• Put cooked meat on a clean plate.
• Keep raw meats, poultry, and seafood away from cooked and ready-to-eat food and drinks.
• Don't use the same utensils on raw foods and cooked and ready-to-eat meals.
Cook meat thoroughly
It's essential to cook food to a safe internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Never partially grill meat and finish cooking it later. Using a food thermometer is the only way to ensure the safety of meat, poultry, seafood, and egg products.
• Use a food thermometer to make sure meat is cooked hot enough to kill germs. You can't tell just by looking at it! Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often brown very fast on the outside, so be sure they are cooked thoroughly. Cook meat and poultry completely at the picnic site. Partial cooking of food ahead of time allows bacteria to survive and multiply to the point that subsequent cooking cannot destroy them.
• Cook all raw meats and poultry to these recommended safe internal temperatures: 145°F for beef, pork, fish; 160°F for hamburgers and ground meat; 165°F for chicken or turkey.
• If you're smoking meat, keep the smoker's temperature at 225°F to 300°F.
• Keep cooked meats hot and out of the Danger Zone before serving.
Keep foods cool
As mentioned, rates of food poisoning increase in summer months because bacteria grow faster in warmer weather. Eating food left in the Danger Zone (40°F to 140°F) for too long can make people sick.
• Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood chilled until ready to grill, in the fridge, or an insulated cooler, below 40°F.
• Throw away any remaining perishable food that isn't refrigerated.
• Cold refrigerated perishable foods like luncheon meats, cooked meats, chicken, and potato or pasta salads should be kept in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, ice packs or containers of frozen water.
• Consider packing canned beverages in one cooler and perishable food in another cooler. The beverage cooler may be opened frequently, causing the temperature inside of the cooler to fluctuate and become unsafe.
• While driving, keep the cooler in the coldest part of the car. Once outside, place it in the shade or out of the sun whenever possible.
• Preserve the cold temperature of the cooler by replenishing the ice as soon as it starts to melt.
• If a cooler is not an option, consider taking foods that do not require refrigeration, such as whole fruits, whole vegetables, hard cheeses, canned, or dried meats.
• Take-out food: If you don't plan to eat take-out food within two hours of purchase, plan and chill the food in your refrigerator before packing for your outing.
• Leftovers? Food left out of refrigeration for more than two hours may not be safe to eat. When the temperature is above 90 °F (32 °C), food should not be left out for more than one hour. Play it safe and put leftover perishables back on ice once you finish eating so they do not spoil or become unsafe. If you have any doubts, throw it out!
Like sunburn and mosquito bites, food poisoning is a common warm-weather sickness that can cause painful consequences. By understanding the risks, you can help prevent foodborne illness from showing up at your summer cookout. Anyone can get food poisoning, but some people have a higher risk than others, like young children, elderly, pregnant women, or those with a weakened immune system.
Food poisoning symptoms may range from mild to severe and may differ depending on the germ you swallowed. The most common symptoms of food poisoning are upset stomach, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. It may take hours or days before you develop symptoms. If you experience symptoms of food poisoning, such as diarrhea or vomiting, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Call your primary care provider if you have severe symptoms, including:
• Bloody stools
• High fever (temperature over 102°F, measured orally)
• Frequent vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down (which can lead to dehydration)
• Signs of dehydration, including little or no urination, a parched mouth, and throat, or feeling dizzy when standing up
• Diarrhea that lasts more than three days
Now, let's raise a glass of iced tea to well-cooked burgers, rinsed veggies, and chilled fruit salad!
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