Summer food safety: 10 things you should know and what you can do to prevent illness
By DR. KAREN LATIMER
Summer is a time for casual fun and relaxation. Everything is easier – we throw flip flops on, we throw easy get-togethers, we throw kids in the pool, we throw food on the grill, we throw up ... Man, it all sounded like so much fun until that last one. Unfortunately, food borne illness is more common in the summer. Not only do the hotter temperatures allow for increased bacterial growth, with all the outdoor cooking and dining, our food practices are more lax, resulting in a greater risk of contamination.
What should you know?
1. According to the CDC, about 1 in 6 Americans will get a food related illness each year.
2. Food borne illness, from bacteria like e. Coli and Salmonella, can be very serious, even fatal, especially in the very young and the elderly.
3. Harmful pathogens originate in the intestines of live animals, which can cause the meat itself to be contaminated.
4. Cross contamination from this meat onto produce can occur anywhere from farm to table.
5. Safe food handling can dramatically reduce the risk of food poisoning, as it is most often, careless practices that put people at risk.
6. In many cases, it is not necessarily the poultry or meat causing illness, but rather raw food which has come into contact with the dangerous microorganisms.
7. The riskiest foods include leafy greens, raw seafood, berries, melons, undercooked meat, eggs, tuna, potatoes, cheese and ice cream.
8. Myth-buster: Store-bought mayonnaise does not go bad. It is loaded with preservatives and acid, which probably help protect a salad. Worry more about your garden salad than your potato salad.
9. Most people who ingest harmful bacteria do not get sick, as their immune systems are able to fight off the harmful microorganisms.
10. You can successfully eliminate most of the risk with careful food handling and preparation.
What You Can Do
1. Safety starts in the store. Keep your produce and your meats separate by using the bags provided for both your fresh foods and your meat.
2. Continue the separation at home, by keeping these foods away from each other in the fridge.
3. Before preparing food, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds in warm, soapy water.
4. Use separate cutting boards and knives for meat and produce.
5. Wash produce thoroughly before eating. Make sure to wash the outside of melons before cutting. Your knife will drag any bacteria on the outside into the edible center.
6. Cook meat and poultry thoroughly. Steak, pork and fish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Ground meat and poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
7. Don't leave food out in warm weather. Refrigerate promptly, as summer temps will allow bacteria to multiply more quickly.
8. Never defrost or marinate on the counter at room temperature. This should be done in the refrigerator to avoid bacterial growth.
9. Heat leftovers completely before enjoying.
10. When in doubt, throw it out. I hate wasting food, but I would rather see it in the garbage than the toilet. If you aren't sure if food is still fresh, err on the side of caution.
I know you'd rather relax in the sun than worry about proper food handling. But, even more than a little extra work, food poisoning can really ruin your summer day. Take extra care to keep everyone safe and healthy.