The sun is out, the grass is green, and the temperatures are rising. All signs that outdoor cooking and grilling is in high gear. As our neighborhoods are filled with the wafts of supper smoke up in the sky, friends will gather to one another’s homes and share their specialty dishes and treats. All too often however, it seems some of these foods don’t agree with a few people. With symptoms ranging from indigestion and an upset stomach to vomiting and diarrhea, a regular culprit for these gastrointestinal issues is likely the effects of food-borne illnesses. Incorporating a few easy-to-use food safety measures will help you avoid these unexpected illnesses so you can better enjoy your barbeque outings and outdoor dinner gatherings.
Food-borne illnesses, also known as food poisoning, tend to be more prevalent in the spring and summer months. A major reason behind this is directly attributed to how fast bacteria develop when exposed to warmer temperatures. Since bacteria grows most rapidly between a range of 40° to 140° F additional precautions must be taken to keep from getting sick. Referred to as the “Danger Zone”, by the United States Department of Agriculture, food exposed between the temperature range of 40° to 140° F, beyond 1 hour, produces an optimal environment for bacteria to proliferate. Another cause for food-borne illness is simply not incorporating proper sanitation and hand washing when handling, cooking, or eating food.
Four measures everyone should include when cooking and eating foods include:
Wash your hands regularly with soap and water before, during, and after handling food items. Also, wash cutting boards, utensils, knives, and any surfaces food comes in contact with using hot, soapy water before and after each food item is being prepared. Finally, rinse produce and remove all visible dirt and grime. Remove and discard the outermost leaves of lettuce and other leafy vegetables since bacteria grow well on the cut surfaces of fruits and vegetables.
Avoid cross-contamination of food products by keeping them separated during preparation. Raw meat and poultry should never come in contact with fruits and vegetables and should be prepared separately. After preparing raw meat and poultry be sure to wash your hands, utensils, cutting boards, and counter tops before proceeding to the next food items. Lastly, do not use the same platter for retrieving cooked meat from the grill that was used to hold the meat before it was cooked.
Cook meats thoroughly to an internal temperature of at least 160° F to sufficiently kill bacteria. Invest in a good meat thermometer and check by placing the thermometer into the deepest portion of any beef, pork, lamb, poultry, fish, or eggs you are cooking. Be sure to clean your thermometer in hot, soapy water after each use.
Coordinate your meal planning to insure all dishes are ready at the same time to avoid items being left out for greater than one hour. Bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature and even more so when left outdoors. Refrigerate leftovers promptly, within an hour after serving, and divide larger portions of food items into smaller containers to allow faster cooling during refrigeration and/or freezing. If you are ever in doubt of how long food has been left out…throw it out!
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from food-borne diseases. While these stats are alarming, most of these illnesses can be prevented. Following the basic measures of Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill will help keep you and your gut healthy no matter the season.
For more information, access the web at http://www.foodsafety.gov/.