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Author: Tonya Spada-Dixon, RD, LDN
Director of Culinary & Nutrition, Conemaugh Health System
Summer offers plentiful opportunities to gather outdoors with family and friends. Whether it’s the Fourth of July, Labor Day, an afternoon on the lake or one last hurrah before school days beckon again, al fresco celebrations are the order of the day when the sun is out and the temps are warm. And most gatherings have one particular ingredient in common: food. Think grilled burgers and hot dogs, barbecued chicken, homemade potato salad and coleslaw, and overflowing veggie and fruit trays. While you’re enjoying your summer favorites, there’s another ingredient that should be a part of every party: food safety.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 million Americans suffer from a food-borne illness each year. That’s one in six people. And of those 48 million, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. Symptoms of food poisoning can vary both in severity and type, but the most common are upset stomach, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. And while anyone can be affected, adults 65 and older, children younger than five and people with compromised immune systems are even more at risk. So, it’s incredibly important to stay vigilant about keeping the food you eat safe for consumption – both at your seasonal celebrations and at home year-round. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure you’re doing everything you can to keep your food safe.
Clean your fruits and veggies and know where they came from. Give all of your produce a good washing. Washing decreases the risk of contamination in fruits and vegetables. Since washing cannot completely eliminate risk, it’s also helpful to know whether or not your foods were grown and processed in sanitary conditions. Take the extra step to learn more about the brands you buy through online research. And support your local farmers market to become better acquainted with your local food sources.
Thoroughly cook your meat and eggs. Raw animal products are most likely to be contaminated. Unpasteurized milk, raw eggs, raw shellfish and raw meat can be the most dangerous and high risk. Ensuring that your eggs have a firm yolk and cooking your meat to the proper internal temperature helps kill parasites, bacteria and viruses. The CDC recommends internal temperature minimums for meats as follows (be sure to use a food thermometer to confirm temperature):
Avoid cross-contamination. Keep raw meat, seafood, poultry and eggs separate from produce and other ready-to-eat foods, and use separate cutting boards and plates for those items.
Cool and store prepared food properly. Don’t prepare foods more than one day in advance, unless you’re going to freeze them. Cooking foods in advance opens the door wider for bacteria to grow. The majority of reported cases of food-borne illnesses can be traced back to improper cooling. Cooked foods should be rapidly cooled in shallow pans, instead of just being left to cool on the counter. Spread your food out in as many pans as needed so that your prepared items are no more than two inches deep for cooling. Frozen foods should be thawed safely in your refrigerator, cold water or the microwave – never on the countertop.
Perishable food should never be left out for more than two hours (or one hour if outside temps are above 90°F). Food that sits at room temperature can quickly develop bacteria. Refrigerate your leftovers as soon as possible. A good rule of thumb? When in doubt, throw it out.
Keep it covered. Many insects can carry harmful bacteria and viruses, so it’s important to keep your foods covered to protect against potential contamination from pests – especially when celebrating outdoors.
Keep it clean. A clean kitchen and food preparation area can help ensure safe food consumption. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before, during and after food preparation and before you dig in to the feast. And wash all of your cutting boards, utensils, bowls, pans and tools with hot, soapy water after each use.
By keeping these tips top of mind, you’ll be helping to ensure a safe and fun feast for your family and friends at all of your celebrations – both during summer and the seasons beyond.
If you do find yourself suffering from a food-borne illness and have symptoms that are severe, including blood in stools, high fever (over 102°F), frequent vomiting, dehydration or diarrhea that continues for more than three days, see your provider. If you need a provider, 800.424.DOCS to get connected with the right care.
For more information on food safety, visit www.cdc.gov/foodsafety.