Foodborne Illness Peaks in Summer

Cathy Agan  |  5/31/2012 1:56:44 AM

It’s good old summer time with sunshine, picnics, travel, and foodborne illnesses. Microorganisms that can cause foodborne illnesses grow faster in the warm summer months. Bacteria need moisture to flourish, and summer weather with its humidity makes a perfect environment for its growth. Under the right circumstances, harmful bacteria can quickly multiply on food to large numbers which can cause someone to become ill. Foodborne illnesses also peak in the summer because people are spending more time outdoors on activities such as cooking out, picnicking, and camping. Here are some tips to help you fight foodborne illness and keep your food safer this summer.

Always wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. If a sink is not available where you will be, pack moist wipes for cleaning hands and surfaces. Hand sanitizer can be used to sanitize hands. Look for a sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content for most effectiveness.

When packing the cooler, wrap meats securely to avoid raw meat juices from coming in contact with ready-to-eat food. A full cooler will maintain its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled. Pack plenty of extra ice or freezer packs to keep it cold. Keep the cooler out of the direct sun, and keep drinks in a separate cooler from foods. If you are reaching for a drink often, you don’t want to expose perishable foods to warm temperatures.

Be safe when marinating foods. Always marinate in the refrigerator. Don’t use sauce on cooked food after it has been used to marinate raw meat or poultry. Reserve a portion of the unused marinade to use as a sauce.

When grilling foods, preheat the coals on your grill for 20 to 30 minutes or until the coals are lightly coated with ash. Use a food thermometer to ensure that food reaches a safe internal temperature. Hamburgers should be cooked to 160° F, while cuts of beef such as roasts and steaks may be cooked to 145° F for medium rare or to 160° F for medium. Poultry should reach a temperature of 165° F. Fish should be opaque and flake easily. Never put cooked food items back on the same plate that held raw food unless it has been washed with hot water and soap first. When the temperature is above 90° F, foods should not sit out for more than one hour before going in the refrigerator.

Homemade ice cream is a popular summer treat, but each year that treat causes many cases of Salmonella due to raw or undercooked eggs. To avoid the risk of Salmonella, the FDA advises consumers to start with a cooked egg base for ice cream. To make a cooked egg base, combine eggs and milk as indicated in the recipe (Sugar may be added at this step as well.). Cook the mixture gently to an internal temperature of 160° F, stirring constantly. The cooking will destroy Salmonella if present. After cooking, chill the mixture before adding other ingredients and freezing. You can also use egg substitutes or pasteurized eggs in your recipe if you don’t want to cook the egg base.

Handle foods safely, and you can picnic, camp, and barbecue without worry of foodborne illnesses. Always remember: If in doubt, throw it out!

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