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Summer is Peak Season for Foodborne Illness

Zuzana Bleha
June 16, 2015

food-safety-summerHot summer days mean we like to spend more time together and outside enjoying the sunshine. Often we find ourselves congregating in outdoor venues packed with people and where a wide selection of food is served such as barbecues, picnics, patios and outdoor festivals. Many of us spend little time thinking about how our food is being stored, prepared and handled in these situations, let alone what the hand hygiene practices are of those serving it. Consider however, that foodborne illness or “food poisoning” peaks in the summer and events like these that combine heat, crowds and food, can be breeding ground for foodborne pathogens.


According to the CDC, there are 48 million foodborne illness cases in the United States every year.  At least 128,000 Americans are hospitalized, and 3,000 die after eating contaminated food.1  Foodborne illnesses are caused by many different foodborne pathogens including Salmonella, norovirus, Campylobacter, Toxoplasma, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria and Clostridium perfringens. Norovirus is the most common responsible for 5.4 million illnesses a yearand the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis which causes symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever and muscle pain. Often the symptoms occur days after contamination, therefore many cases of foodborne illness are never traced back to the source and are more than likely not reported to healthcare officials.


Microorganisms flourish in hot and humid temperatures and in these conditions they can quickly multiple on food in large numbers. These pathogens are spread easily from contaminated food, water, surfaces and through close contact with others. Mobile restaurant and food service workers need to be extra diligent in their hand hygiene practices because most often these pathogens are spread by touching food with bare hands before serving food, as well as improper food storage practices and not keeping foods at safe temperatures. Restaurants are routinely inspected by food inspection agencies to ensure they are following the proper guidelines, however outdoor food serving events and mobile food services like food trucks, can present a greater challenge.


With the growing popularity of food trucks, mobile food services serving items like gourmet tacos, burgers, sandwiches and ribs all across cities around the world, the question on many people’s minds is are outdoor food vendors safe?


One study of 95 mobile food trucks in California found that 90 (94.73%) food trucks assessed exhibited at least one critical risk factor below:3


  • ThinkstockPhotos-513887051Improper hand washing or no hand washing 84 (88.42%)
  • Inadequate or no sanitation solution (for sanitizing surfaces) 65 (68.42%)
  • Cross contamination with ready-to-eat foods 57 (60.00%)
  • Refrigeration ambient temperatures >45°F 42 (44.21%)
  • Refrigeration units not operating 23 (24.21%)
  • Internal food temperature >41°F 34 (35.78%)

Based on these findings, you don’t need to be as concerned if the beef or chicken is undercooked as with the personal hand hygiene of the food service worker serving you the food. Ideally, the food worker wears gloves and replaces them often, however this is not always legally required.


‘’Everyone loves a BBQ in the summer, but with the free and easy feel of outdoor grilling, it’s easy to forget that the rules of safe food handling we use indoors still apply outdoors. In fact, cases of foodborne illness increase significantly during the summer months and outdoor cooking is suspected of being a major cause of the problem’’ says retired Public Health Inspector Jim Chan.


So how do you protect yourself and others from foodborne illness?


Whether you’re a food service worker or preparing food at home, the WHO (World Health Organization) recommends these five keys to safer food4:


1. Keep clean

• Wash your hands before handling food and often during food preparation
• Wash your hands after going to the toilet
• Wash and sanitize all surfaces and equipment used for food preparation
• Protect kitchen areas and food from insects, pests and other animals


2. Separate raw and cooked

• Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods
• Use separate equipment and utensils such as knives and cutting boards for handling raw foods
• Store food in containers to avoid contact between raw and prepared foods


3. Cook thoroughly

• Cook food thoroughly, especially meat, poultry, eggs and seafood
• Bring foods like soups and stews to boiling to make sure that they have reached 70°C. For meat and poultry, make sure that juices are clear, not pink. Ideally, use a thermometer
• Reheat cooked food thoroughly


4. Keep food at safe temperatures

• Do not leave cooked food at room temperature for more than 2 hours
• Refrigerate promptly all cooked and perishable food (preferably below 5°C)
• Keep cooked food piping hot (more than 60°C) prior to serving
• Do not store food too long even in the refrigerator
• Do not thaw frozen food at room temperature


5. Use safe water and raw materials

• Use safe water or treat it to make it safe
• Select fresh and wholesome foods
• Choose foods processed for safety, such as pasteurized milk
• Wash fruits and vegetables, especially if eaten raw
• Do not use food beyond its expiry date

While there may always be a slight risk when eating out and you may feel that your health is literally in the “hands of the food service provider”, there is still one simple thing that you can do to avoid the spread of germs – hand washing. Proper hand washing for a minimum of 20 seconds as recommended by WHO, or with the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers when water is not readily available is still always the best measure.


Download a Poster and Infographic and get a FREE sample of Cleanse Antibacterial Soap or Foam Sanitizer for your food service facility.




1Foodborne Illness

2 Foodborne Illness

3Mobile Food Trucks: California EHS-Net Study on Risk Factors and Inspection Challenges - Brenda Vanschaik Faw, Sr. REHS, CP-FS and Joyce L. Tuttle, Sr. REHS, PHM

4Prevention of Foodborne Disease: The Five Keys to Safer Food


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