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Avoid summertime food poisoning with these easy tips

Image of Someone cooking on a grill. Make sure your grilling temperatures cook food properly. Use a thermometer to determine if safe temperatures are reached for grilled foods. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot (Photo by: Scott Fenaroli, USS Carl Vinson).

Summertime heat and outdoor events can put everyone at increased risk of contracting severe foodborne illness so it's more important than ever to stick to a few key safety guidelines to make sure you and your guests don't get sick.

"A simple rule of thumb is: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Melissa Amescua, a registered dietitian and nutrition program manager for the Navy's 21st Century Sailor Office in Millington, Tennessee.

"Letting these foods get outside of their allowed temperature ranges will increase the odds for one to get sick," Amescua said.

"This range is called the 'danger zone,'" she explained.

Other important tips for summer barbeques include using a food thermometer along with tongs and spatulas when you're cooking. Always try to keep ice that cools food separate from ice used for beverages. And, after outdoor summer events: Beware of any leftovers that have been sitting out.

"Researchers have found at least 250 types of foodborne illnesses that can make us sick or, even worse, put us in the hospital, and, for all people that fall into a high-risk category, it could even cause death," Amescua said.

Amescua said those at higher risk for contracting a foodborne illness include:

  • The elderly
  • Pregnant women
  • Young children, typically under 5 years of age
  • People who are already ill or have an illness that compromises the immune system

"In the summer months, the very hot temperatures create an environment that makes it easy for bacteria and germs to thrive," Amescua said.

Food experts point to several key resources to help reduce the risk of food poisoning.

Amescua recommends using the CDC website. There, you can view everything from the four steps to food safety -- Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill -- to tips and alerts on contaminated foods.

Michael Dombrowski, chief sanitarian for Fort Carson, Colorado's department of public health, has these tips for a safe outdoor summer cooking experience:

1. Keep things clean. Wash and rinse fresh fruits and vegetables before packing. Wash hands, surfaces, and utensils frequently with soap and water, and follow up with sanitizing sprays or wipes on food contact surfaces. Clean and rinse coolers before adding ice and products.

2. Cold food should be stored at 40 F or below, using coolers with ice or frozen gel packs. Keep coolers out of the direct sun and avoid opening the lid too often. This keeps the contents cold longer. It helps to keep beverages in a separate cooler. Everything should stay chilled until immediately before it will be cooked or consumed.

3. Do not cross-contaminate. Keep cooling ice and drinking ice separate - Don't use ice for drinking if it has been used to keep food or beverages cold. Keep raw meat/poultry/seafood in separate containers to avoid contaminating other picnic foods. Never use the same plate, cutting board, or utensils for cooked food that you used for raw food. Bacteria in the juices of raw meat and poultry can contaminate safely cooked food.

4. Remember to thaw meat and poultry slowly in the refrigerator before cooking - never at ambient temperature. Never partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later. A food thermometer is as important as tongs and spatulas in your equipment list. Always use a food thermometer to be sure grilled food has reached a safe internal temperature: chicken and turkey in all forms to 165 F; ground meats (other than poultry) such as burgers, and bratwursts/sausages to 160 F; and solid cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb to 145 F.

5. After cooking, keep meat and poultry at 140 F or warmer until eaten. If cooked items need to be reheated, grill them to 165 F. Refrigerate any hot or cold leftovers promptly in shallow containers. Do not keep any leftover food such as salads, meat/poultry, cut fruit, or cooked vegetables if they were left out at ambient temperature. Be sure to clean up the area before you depart, disposing of all food and trash in pest-proof containers.

Stick to these rules to ensure you have a happy, healthy summer.

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Last Updated: July 11, 2023
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