Nothing says summer like cookouts, picnics and favorite recipes. But foodborne illness can ruin your summer fun because bacteria is much more common in the summer months, due to its ability to multiply rapidly when it’s warm outside. An estimated 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths are caused by foodborne diseases each year. That’s why it’s important to be reminded of proper food handling each summer season.
Some of these precautions may already be a natural part of how you handle food, or you may learn something new that could prevent you or someone you know from experiencing the uncomfortable or even life-threatening symptoms of a foodborne illness.
1. Preparing the food — Whether you are grilling, roasting or sautéing, marinating your food is a great way to enhance flavor. To ensure that food is tasty and also is safe to eat, be sure to marinate food in the refrigerator where it can maintain a safe temperature, rather than on the counter. It also is important to separate the marinade that you use with raw meat from the marinade that you use with cooked food. Using marinade that was previously mixed with raw food on cooked food causes cross-contamination, one of the leading causes of foodborne illness.
Another way to prevent cross-contamination is to use separate utensils for raw meat, poultry and cooked meats. When cooking with meat, it also is recommended to use a food thermometer to ensure that the meat is cooked to a safe temperature. Color is not an accurate indicator of doneness and checking the internal temperature will give you the reassurance that the food is safe to eat. Burgers and other ground beef, for example, should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Visit www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html for more information on safe food temperatures.
2. Traveling with food — When traveling with food to your summer celebration location, wrap raw meat in zip-locked bags so juices don’t leak and contaminate other foods and surfaces. If using a cooler, separate clean ice into large containers and clearly label them “for beverages only.” You don’t want to use the ice that is used to chill food for serving, as this could transfer bacteria into your drink.
3. Cooking out — The first thing to remember when cooking out is to first clean all surfaces, utensils and hands. This will help reduce contamination and the spread of bacteria. If water is not available, you could bring water from home or purchase sanitizing towelettes. When serving food, it is important to keep cold foods cold at 40 degrees F. or below. To reduce waste, prep as much as possible before arriving to the cookout location and only bring as much food as you need. The two-hour rule should be followed when serving food, which means that no food should be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. If the outside temperature is above 90 degrees F., that time limit is shortened to one hour. Remember, melted ice is not cool enough to keep food safe. Once the ice has melted, it is time to swap it out for new ice.
Tip: Separate large portions of food into smaller containers and only put out one container at a time, leaving the others chilling in the cooler. Once the time limit has been reached, swap out the old container for one of the chilled containers.
4. Leftovers — Refrigerate or freeze leftovers promptly in shallow containers. The shallow containers will allow the foods to return to a safe temperature faster than if in deeper containers. Discard any foods left out longer than two hours (or one hour if left out at temperatures above 90 degrees F.). Leftover food can be stored in the refrigerator for three to four days or in the freezer for three to four months.
Food poisoning symptoms may range from mild to severe, depending on the type of germ you ingested. The most common symptoms of food poisoning include upset stomach, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. These symptoms can last a few hours or up to several days. After you consume a contaminated food or drink, it may take hours or days before symptoms develop.
See your doctor or healthcare provider if you have symptoms that are severe, which include the following: high fever, blood in stool, frequent vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down, signs of dehydration, and/or diarrhea that lasts more than three days.
Have a safe and tasty summer.
Chelsea DeAngelis is a Public Health Nutrition graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Please contact Nicole Alston, WIC Director, with your questions or comments at 336-513-4872.