Keep your summer company safe

Follow four simple steps to keep foodborne illnesses from family gatherings
Star Herald Editorial

Summer months in Rock County are filled with dozens of special events, most of which feature food and beverages.

Also common in the summer is foodborne illness or food poisoning.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in six Americans (that’s 48 million people) suffer from foodborne illness each year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

“Because foodborne bacteria thrive and multiply in warmer temperatures, foodborne illness can spike during the summer,” said USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Food Safety Al Almanza.

“This is likely because people are spending more time outside away from the sink and equipment in the kitchen that help consumers keep food safe.”

The USDA recommends four simple steps — clean, separate, cook and chill — to keep food safe at outdoor get-togethers.

•Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often. Unwashed hands are a prime cause of foodborne illness.

Wash hands with warm, soapy water before handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets.

When eating away from home, find out if there’s a source of potable (safe to drink) water. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning. Or pack clean, wet, disposable washcloths or towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.

•Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate. Cross-contamination during preparation, grilling and serving food is a prime cause of foodborne illness.

When packing the cooler chest for an outing, wrap raw meats securely; avoid raw meat juices from coming into contact with ready-to-eat food.

Always keep cold food cold, at or below 40 degrees, in coolers or in containers with a cold source such as ice or frozen gel packs. Keep hot food hot, at or above 140 degrees, on the grill or in insulated containers, warming trays or slow cookers.

Wash plates, utensils and cutting boards that held raw meat or poultry before using the item again for cooked food.

Cook to safe temperatures. Food experts agree that food is safely cooked when it is heated long enough and at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

Take your food thermometer along. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside, so be sure that meats are cooked thoroughly. Check them with a food thermometer.

Chill or refrigerate promptly. Holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of foodborne illness. Keep cold food cold.

Consider packing beverages in one cooler and perishable food in another cooler because the beverage cooler will probably be opened frequently.

Food left out for more than two hours may not be safe to eat. With outdoor temperatures above 90 degrees, food should not be left out for over one hour. Play it safe; put leftover perishables back on ice once you finish eating so they do not spoil or become unsafe to eat.

If you have any doubts, throw it out.

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