In the summer, and particularly on the Fourth of July, barbecues are as common as lazy days at the swimming pool and family outings at the park. From grilled burgers and hot dogs to homemade coleslaw and fruit salad, it’s hard to beat a barbecue — especially when food safety is a priority from start to finish.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of six people in the United States suffers from a food-borne illness each year. As a result, 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die. The young, the elderly, and the chronically ill are most susceptible to severe reactions to food-borne illnesses.
The good news is that food-borne illnesses are largely preventable. Before serving your next famous burger or summer salad, consider these tips for helping ensure a safe and satisfying meal:
Sufficiently cook your meat and eggs. Raw animal products are most likely to be contaminated. Unpasteurized milk, raw eggs, raw shellfish and raw meat are the most dangerous. Make sure your eggs have a firm yolk and cook your meat to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees to help kill parasites, bacteria and viruses.
Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables. Washing decreases, but does not eliminate, the risk of contamination in fruits and vegetables. For this reason, in addition to washing, it is helpful to know whether or not foods were grown and processed in sanitary conditions. Learn more about the brands you buy through online research. Or support your local farmers’ market to become better acquainted with local food sources.
Avoid cross-contamination. Wash your cutting boards, mixing bowls, knives and other utensils after each use. This will minimize the possibility of passing contaminants from one food to another. Keeping your countertops clean with an anti-bacterial cleanser is important, too. Use one utensil to put raw meat on the grill, and another utensil to handle it once it’s in the process of cooking. Never dump marinade from raw meat onto cooked or partially cooked product, even if the food is still on the grill. Always use a clean container to bring the cooked product from the grill to the table.
Promptly refrigerate leftovers. Food that sits at room temperature can quickly develop bacteria. To preserve freshness and increase safety, refrigerate your leftovers as soon as possible.
Consider the source. Bulk ground beef can be particularly dangerous, because one infected animal can contaminate a large number of products. To encourage food safety, consider buying from a local butcher and inquire about the meat-grinding process.
When eating out, research restaurants before dining. Develop a better understanding of a restaurant’s food handling and sanitation practices by researching how it scored on its most recent health inspection. Use the information to determine which restaurants you support and trust. And when ordering meat, be sure to specify that you want it thoroughly cooked.
“Food is an integral part of everyday life. As such, it is important that both producers and consumers take the necessary steps to minimize the risk of food-borne illnesses,” says Pete Merritt, Director of Food Services at Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln. “Ensuring sanitary conditions and proper preparation can go a long way in supporting the health of your loved ones.”
“Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks can be sudden and dangerous,” adds Christine Delucas Clinical Operations practice leader at Quorum Health Resources. “It’s important that symptoms related to mass food-borne illnesses are reported to your local health department and hospitals immediately. This way, if there is a wide-spread outbreak, it can be quickly identified and addressed.”
So, this summer, consider food safety as you prepare, serve and store food for your family and friends. Enjoy barbecues and picnics as well as the many fruits and vegetables readily available during these months. In your spare time, research food processing practices and local growers and restaurants. And don’t forget to enjoy the colors and smells that come with cooking fresh ingredients.
This article provided by Penobscot Valley Hospital in Lincoln, Maine and Quorum Health Resources.