NDSU Extension Service - Mercer County

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Summer Time Food Safety

summer, food safety, picnics, barbecues, camping

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

           Year after year, we hear and read the same advice: Handle food carefully in the summer because foodborne illness is more prevalent in warmer weather. Do foodborne illnesses increase during the summer months? If so, why?

           Yes, foodborne illnesses do increase during the summer, and the answer appears to be twofold. First, there are the natural causes. Bacteria are present throughout the environment in soil, air, water, and in the bodies of people and animals. These microorganisms grow faster in the warm summer months. Most foodborne bacteria grow fastest at temperatures from 90 to 110 °F. Given the right circumstances, harmful bacteria can quickly multiply on food to large numbers. When this happens, someone eating the food can get sick.

           Second, outside activities increase. More people are cooking outside at picnics, barbecues, and on camping trips. The safety controls that a kitchen provides — thermostat-controlled cooking, refrigeration, and washing facilities — are usually not available.

           Fortunately, most people do not become ill from contaminated food as most people have a healthy immune system that protects them not only from harmful bacteria on food, but from other harmful organisms in the environment.  Still, we know that foodborne illness increases in warm weather and following some simple steps means safer food all summer.

Wash Hands and Surfaces Often. Unwashed hands are a prime cause of foodborne illness.

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

Don’t cross-contaminate. This can be a prime cause of foodborne illness.

  • When packing the cooler chest for an outing, wrap raw meats securely; avoid raw meat juices from coming in contact with ready-to-eat food.
  • Wash plates, utensils, and cutting boards that held the raw meat or poultry before using again for cooked food.

Cook to Safe Temperatures. Food is safely cooked when it is heated for a long enough time 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. Check them with a food thermometer.
  • Cook meat and poultry completely at the picnic site. Partial cooking of food ahead of time allows bacteria to survive and multiply to the point that subsequent cooking cannot destroy them.

Refrigerate Promptly. Holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of foodborne illness. Keep cold food cold!

  • Cold refrigerated perishable food like luncheon meats, cooked meats, chicken, and potato or pasta salads should be kept in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, ice packs, or containers of frozen water.
  • Consider packing canned beverages in one cooler and perishable food in another cooler because the beverage cooler will probably be opened frequently.

          Are there any leftovers? Food left out of refrigeration for more than 2 hours may not be safe to eat. The food will probably smell fine, but any food kept in the temperature range of 40 to 140 degree Fahrenheit will become unsafe. Trash – not taste!

            For more information on food safety visit: http://www.ag.ndsu.edu/food/food-safety.

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