Tips for Food Safety
Tips for Food Safety
The official start of summer is just around the corner and the weather is perfect for family barbecues, outdoor celebrations, and picnics. All of these outdoor activities have one thing in common: food! For a lot of families, food is the centerpiece of any gathering. Cooking and enjoying a meal together is a staple, and as the summer rolls around, meals tend to move to the outdoors to be enjoyed on patios, picnic areas, and parks. Here are some tips for food safety to remember this summer to keep you and your family safe against food-borne illness.
Common Food-borne Illnesses
Some of the tastiest foods that we love to enjoy in the summer months can be the sources of common food-borne illnesses. When not handled properly, all foods, from chicken to fresh fruits, can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Here are a few of the most common food-borne illnesses to be aware of:
- Staphylococcus aureus (staph) – Staph can stem from foods that are not cooked after being handled. These types of foods are what we usually like to reach for as our go-to picnic treats. They include deli meats, puddings, pastries, and sandwiches.
- Salmonella – Raw or undercooked poultry can be a source of salmonella. It can also come from consuming raw eggs. Salmonella is very easily spread when not handled properly.
- Norovirus – This illness is a risk factor when consuming leafy greens, veggies, and fresh fruits. It is also caused when an infected person touches surfaces and spreads the bacteria.
- E. Coli – Around 5-10% of people diagnosed with E. Coli can develop a severe life-threatening health problem. Common sources for E. Coli include undercooked ground beef, raw veggies, and raw sprouts.
- Listeria – Listeria is a huge risk factor for pregnant women. Infections during pregnancy can lead to serious illness in newborns. Sources for listeria include soft cheeses, raw sprouts, melons, hot dogs, and deli meats.
How to Avoid Food-borne Illnesses
You can easily avoid bacterial growth that causes food-borne illnesses by practicing proper food sanitation. Some habits may be harder to break, but it is necessary to take preventative measures in order to keep your family safe.
- Look out for cross-contamination – Avoiding cross-contamination is time-consuming and easily overlooked but it is one of the most important things to remember during food preparation. Do NOT wash your meat! This causes contaminated water to splash throughout your food preparation space. Water alone does not kill bacteria so washing is ineffective. Additionally, make sure you are not touching cooked foods on the same surfaces as raw meats! After cooking, transfer foods to a new plate and use new utensils to serve the cooked food.
- Wash your hands frequently during preparation – As part of the risk factors of cross-contamination, make sure to wash your hands frequently during food preparation. For example; when seasoning chicken, you may season one side of the chicken, then use your hands to flip the chicken, and then touch the seasoning jar with that same hand. It is an easy mistake that can cause major health issues!
Temperature Danger Zone
- Keep food out of the temperature danger zone – The temperature danger zone for food is 40-140 degrees. When foods are in this danger zone, it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. Food can easily fall in this zone during cookouts when food is served buffet-style outdoors. Don’t let food sit longer than 2 hours at room temperature. Additionally, if you are outdoors and it is above 90 degrees, do not let your food sit longer than an hour without refrigeration.
- Do not allow meat to thaw on the counter OR marinate on the counter – As you leave meat on the counter, it spends more time in the temperature danger zone allowing it to grow harmful bacteria. The best way to thaw meat is by giving it plenty of time to thaw in the refrigerator, running COOL water over it, or in a microwave.
- Cool leftovers properly – When cooking for large groups, we tend to make a huge batch of food and, in turn, we have lots of leftovers. Again, do not let your leftovers sit out at room temperature for too long. Also, in order to speed up the cooling process, separate large batches of food like chili, into smaller containers to cool. Large portions don’t allow it to cool fast enough and the food will spend too much time in the temperature danger zone
Avoiding Allergens when Preparing Food
When cooking for a large crowd, there are bound to be a few guests who need accommodations due to a food allergy. Some of the most common food-related allergies include nuts, dairy, and wheat. While some people are able to avoid a reaction by simply not consuming a specific food, some people can have major reactions by ingesting even a few particles. You can avoid major health risks by learning the needs of your guests and planning a menu accordingly. If you know a guest has a major peanut allergy that could result in anaphylaxis, it is best to avoid serving foods that could have the potential to be contaminated by nut particles. Another important reminder when it comes to serving food to guests with allergies is that food particles can remain on your hands and in the preparation area and cannot be killed with sanitizer or disinfectant. Always wash your hands and surfaces with warm soapy water. If you would like to err on the safer side, prep the food in a separate area or cover the area with disposable foil as well as wear gloves that can be thrown away.
What Food-borne Illness Looks Like
Most illnesses related to food-borne pathogens cause symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, upset stomach, or nausea. Depending on the bacteria or contaminated food you ate, symptoms could appear anywhere from a few hours to a few days after consumption. Severe symptoms can include bloody diarrhea or diarrhea that is not improving after three days, vomiting that prevents you from keeping liquids down, and dehydration. Because of these symptoms, there are groups of people that are at higher risk than others. These groups include:
- Adults over the age of 25
- Children younger than 5
- People with weakened immune systems
- Pregnant people
As you enjoy gatherings this summer that include serving meals, always remember these tips! Consider the safety of everything you eat and serve. Keep your family and friends safe at your cookouts by taking care and consideration of the food you are preparing.
If you are feeling symptoms of severe food poisoning, visit the Drewry Family Emergency Department.
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