Summertime fun is right around the corner after more than a year of social distancing and being trapped inside. We have opportunities to get reacquainted — carefully — with friends and family, so let’s take a couple of minutes to brush up on some basic food safety tips for those backyard barbecues and cookouts in the park.
Cleanliness and careful preparation are important to keep bacteria, toxins, parasites, and germs from poisoning your good time. After all, the only thing you want to take home from one of these celebrations are great memories.
Food Poisoning Basics
Every year, about 48 million people in the U.S. are affected by some type of foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning. Food poisoning is often caused by a bacteria or virus which can come from almost anywhere. Food can become contaminated when it’s harvested, processed, distributed, or when it’s being prepared.
Most foodborne sickness causes diarrhea and vomiting and resolves itself within a day or two. People with compromised immune systems, the elderly, young children, and pregnant women are at greater risk for serious and even potentially deadly complications.
Some of the more common causes of foodborne illnesses include:
- Escherichia coli — Some E. coli can cause severe illness while others are harmless. Cook food well, don’t consume raw milk, and keep hands clean when preparing food to prevent the spread of E. coli.
- Norovirus — This virus comes from consuming contaminated food or water. It can also be passed from person to person, so wash hands and produce carefully.
- Salmonella — Meat, eggs, fruit, vegetables, spices, and nuts can all be contaminated, so make sure to cook and wash foods thoroughly before consumption.
- Listeria — Listeria is typically caused by eating improperly processed deli meats and unpasteurized milk products. The infection can move from the gut into the blood or brain leading to a blood infection or meningitis and it can be fatal. It can also cause serious conditions for expectant mothers, such as miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm labor, or death in newborns. It's important to keep food preparation areas and tools clean, scrub fruits and vegetables, and cook meats thoroughly.
- Hepatitis A — This is a virus found in contaminated water, shellfish, and salads. It usually appears two to four weeks after exposure and resolves itself within two weeks.
Safer in Four Steps
Bacteria need an opportunity to grow, and viruses need the chance to spread. Don’t let them! You can reduce your family’s risk of getting a foodborne illness by remembering to clean, separate, cook, and chill – every time!
Clean hands and produce — Have some wipes for your hands and wash fruits and vegetables before you pack them in case there’s no water available where you’re going. Always clean hands after touching raw meat and cover surfaces if you can’t clean them. Clean the grill and tools before and after using them. Be sure to check brush bristles and public grills for cooked-on food.
Separate raw foods from cooked — Bacteria live on raw meat and seafood until it’s cooked so don’t let that raw food touch cooked meats or other foods that are ready to eat. Throw away any marinades and don’t let them touch prepared foods. Put the cooked food on its own plate and use different utensils for handling raw and cooked meat and seafood.
Cook meats well — Killing harmful bacteria depends on getting meat to the right internal temperature. The best way to be sure is with a meat thermometer. Beef, pork, and fish should get to 145 degrees (Fahrenheit). Hamburgers should be done at 160 degrees. Chicken and turkey are done at 165 degrees. Smoking meats requires temperatures to reach between 225 and 300 degrees.
Keep foods cold — Ice is extremely important for picnics because bacteria like warm environments (between 40 and 140 degrees). That’s why you keep the potato salad, deviled eggs, and banana pudding on ice until it’s time to serve. Also keep meats on ice until they’re ready for the grill. Foods need to be refrigerated within two hours of cooking, or sooner if it’s 90 degrees or warmer. Throw away anything that’s been out longer than that.
Remember COVID-19 Safety
We couldn’t finish this post without reminding you that COVID-19 isn’t completely under control. Only gather with close family or friends who have been vaccinated against or are recovered from COVID-19. Wear a mask whenever possible, wash your hands frequently, and try to keep some space between yourself and others.
AltaMed Has You Covered
Food poisoning, sunburns, sprained ankles, pulled muscles, heat exhaustion, and dehydration are some of the things that can happen during the summer if you’re not careful. Don’t let any of this discourage you from getting outdoors to exercise, filling up on delicious, seasonal produce, and living a healthy, active life. AltaMed is here to help if you overdo it. Learn how to get started with AltaMed or call us at (888) 499-9303.