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Summer Food Safety

Posted in Food Safety on July 20, 2020

The days are growing longer, there are fireworks bursting overhead, and the heat is growing unmistakably warmer. Summer. Is. Here. Ready or not, here it comes! Summer Food Safety for the WIN!

This means fun in the sun, backyard bar-b-ques, picnics in the park, and other Summer activities which often revolve around food. As humans, we gather around food. This rise in outdoor activities unfortunately corresponds to an uptick in foodborne illnesses nationwide.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness each year. This leads to around 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths in 1 months.

The top 5 offenders include:

  • Norovirus
  • Samonella
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Campylobacter
  • Staphylococcus aureus (Staph)

While less frequent in infection statistics, the following 4 baddies are more likely to lead to more severe illnesses and hospitalization:

  • Cyclospora
  • Clostridium botulinum (botulism)
  • Listeria
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli)
  • Vibrio

What’s Summer Got to Do with It?

Why do foodborne illness cases rise in the Summer? Well there are two significant reasons.

First, bacteria multiply faster in warmer temperatures. As the mercury (or colored alcohol as modern utility dictates) rises, temperature control becomes increasingly difficult and bacteria have the opportunity to grow and reproduce to infectious numbers if left unchecked. One bad move can knock a whole family down with foodborne illness. Let’s hope there are enough bathrooms in the house.

Second, preparing food outdoors makes food handling a little more difficult. The typical kitchen amenities such as a sink and refrigeration are substituted at best and likely omitted altogether.

Together, you have a recipe for disaster. But all is not lost. Pay attention to these temperature and outdoor cooking tips to help keep your family safe while you enjoy fun food in the sun.

Temperature Control Freak

Sometimes being a control freak is a good thing. Particularly if you are a temperature control freak. Especially when it comes to food.

Bacteria are everywhere. In the air, water, in and on the bodies of people and animals, and in the food we eat. Most food provide all the conditions bacteria need to thrive. Foodborne bacteria are happiest at temperatures between 90 and 110ºF (32 to 43ºC). The Summer heat provides perfect conditions for bacterial growth.

Just Chill

One of the basic principles of food safety is to keep hot foods hot and keep cold foods cold. Perishable foods should be kept in an insulated cooler and packed with several inches of ice, ice packs, containers of frozen water, or some combination of the above. Consider the following tips:

Temperature Tip #1: Keep a Separate Beverage Cooler. The beverage cooler will be opened much more frequently than say, the cooler with lunch meat or potato salad. This in-and-out can cause the temperature of the cooler to become unsafe. Unless you have juice in your beverage cooler, the fluctuation in temperature should not cause any food safety issues.

Temperature Tip #2: Keep the Cooler in the Shade. When driving, place the cooler in the coolest part of the car. The floorboard, trunk, or whatever looks safest. Once outside, keep the cooler in the shade or out of the sun. Consider the shade of a tree or side of a building.

Temperature Tip #3: Keep the Ice Coming. As the ice melts, replace it as soon as possible. Ice is coldest when it is solid. Melted into water, the temperature can quickly rise, leaving you vulnerable to increased temperatures that allow for bacteria to grow and spread.

Temperature Tip #4: Plan Safe Foods. If bringing a cooler in tow is not an option, consider taking foods that do not require refrigeration. Foods such as dried or canned meats, hard cheeses, whole fruits and vegetables.

The Great Outdoors

Outdoor cooking has its challenges, to be sure. But there is nothing like a burger grilled outside among friends and family. A few simple tips can mean the difference in family fun, and family sickness. Consider the following:

Outdoor Cooking Tip #1: Keep it Clean. Wash your hands and surfaces often. Hands should be washed with warm, soapy water for at least 20 second before AND after handling food, using the bathroom or changing diapers, and handling pets. If running water is not available, bring some type of wash station with you. Alternatively, you can settle for disposable washcloths and/or moist towelettes for cleaning hands and surfaces. But soap and water are your best bet.

Outdoor Cooking Tip #2: Separate! Don’t Cross Contaminate! Keep raw foods away from cooked food. Package raw meats, poultry and fish securely so that their juices do not come in contact with other foods. Cooked or ready-to-eat foods should be stored separately from raw or unwashed foods. Cooked food should never be returned to the place that previously held raw food, unless it has been washed in hot soapy water. Remember tip #1.

Outdoor Cooking Tip #3: Bring Your Meat Thermometer. Don’t leave home without it. Your meat thermometer that is. A food thermometer is the only way to ensure that meat, poultry, seafood, and egg products are sufficiently cooked to an internal temperature that will kill harmful bacteria. Meat cooked on a grill often browns quickly on the outside, leaving the inside ambiguous. Poultry (whole, pieces, and ground) should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 ºF/74 ºC. Other ground meats require an internal temperature of 160 ºF/71 ºC. Steaks, roasts, and chops of beef, pork, lamb, and veal only need an internal temperature of 145 ºF/63 ºC.

Outdoor Cooking Tip #4: When in Doubt, Throw it Out. When it comes to leftovers or food being left out, it is always best to err on the side of caution. Is that leftover burger really worth it? Food left outside of refrigeration for more than two hours may bot be safe to eat. This ticking clock drops to one hour if the temperature is above 90 ºF (or 32 ºC). Put leftover food back on ice once you have finished eating to keep it from spoiling or becoming unsafe to eat. When in doubt, throw it out!

Good luck and enjoy!

By: Heather Van Tassell