5 Tips to Help Prevent Foodborne Illness this Summer
Summer is the season for long weekends, pool parties and beach days. One of the best parts of these summer days are the out door barbeques and picnics with friends and family!
As the temperature rises, so does the opportunity for foodborne bacteria to thrive – but don’t let food poisoning spoil a good time. Harmful bacteria multiply quickly in warm, moist conditions and every year, a total of about 4 million (1 in 8) Canadians are affected by a food-borne illness (1). To protect yourself, your family, and friends from foodborne illness during the summer months, hand hygiene and safe food handling when eating outdoors are critical.
Keep foodborne illness in check by following a few simple guidelines for transporting your food to the picnic site, preparing and serving it safely once you’ve arrived.
1. Keep it Clean
Food safety begins with proper hand cleaning – even when outdoors. Before you fire up the grill and start setting out your picnic feast, make sure hands and surfaces are clean. Wash hands with soap and water before handling food and especially after handling raw meats. When washing your hands, make sure to follow the proper steps of hand washing - paying attention to the back of the hands and fingertips as these areas are frequently missed. If you don’t have access to running water, use a water jug, some soap, and paper towels. Or, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if your hands are not visibly soiled – otherwise you need to wash them. Also, be sure to keep all utensils and platters clean when preparing food.
2. Separate, Don’t Cross Contaminate
To help keep everyone safe from foodborne illness, separate coolers should be used to store ready-to-eat foods (like fruit) away from raw meats. This will help to prevent the spread of germs or pathogens from the raw meat onto your ready-to-eat food. To avoid cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods, switch to clean plates and utensils after putting raw meats on the grill. Make sure to have separate serving utensils for each dish as well as a few extras on hand.
3. Keep it Chill
Keep cold food cold, store perishable items in an insulated cooler well stocked with freezer packs or blocks of ice. Consider packing drinks in a separate cooler, as frequent opening of coolers can lead to temperature fluctuations and increase the opportunity for bacteria growth. Perishable foods should be kept in the cooler until serving time as bacteria can double in number in as little as 20 minutes (2). Store coolers in the shade or out of the sun, and keep replenishing the ice as soon as it starts to melt whenever possible.
4. Cook Properly
Cooking food to the right temperature is essential for food safety. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of the food and cook thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria. Grilled food can be kept hot until served by moving it to the side of the grill rack, just away from the heat. This will keep food hot and prevent overcooking. Eat cooked food while it’s still hot and store any leftover food back in the cooler as soon as possible.
5. When in Doubt, Throw it Out!
After four hours, all uneaten, perishable food should be discarded. Food left out is highly susceptible to bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Garbage bags are a safe way to keep discarded meat packaging and other waste separate from food preparation and eating areas and helps to keep critters away. Don’t be a litterbug and be sure to pack out what you bring in.
A little planning when preparing for your next picnic or barbeque greatly reduces the potential for foodborne illness to ruin your day.
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