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Prairie Fare: Don't Get Bugged by Foodborne Illness This Summer

Humans make some common mistakes during grilling season.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

Use your imagination for a minute. Conjure up some food memories.

Imagine the aroma of a juicy steak hot off the grill and cooked just the way you like it. Take a bite. Taste some colorful, grilled vegetable kebabs flavored with a tasty marinade. Savor the tangy flavor of potato salad.

Feel the cool sensation of a bite of sweet watermelon. Maybe you need to wipe your face. A drink of ice cold lemonade tastes refreshing, too.

Now imagine becoming ill within hours of your backyard barbecue. The flulike symptoms leave you feeling like a wrung-out rag.

That's not a good image.

Unfortunately, as cooking moves outdoors, the number of foodborne illness cases increases. Bacteria, such as salmonella, "staph" and E. coli, love a picnic on a hot day.

These invisible, uninvited guests can ruin a good party.

Bacteria grow in a range of temperatures, but they grow particularly well at 90 degrees and above. Bacteria can be found on food, people, pets, all types of surfaces and on outdoor pests, such as flies. A source of food and warm, humid weather give bacteria the opportunity to grow to high enough numbers to make you ill.

Humans make some common mistakes during grilling season. As we enjoy warm temperatures and outdoor cooking, we might skip hand washing because the facilities aren't nearby.

We might use the same plate that held the raw food to retrieve cooked food from the grill. Our refrigerators and thermostat-controlled appliances aren't necessarily within a few steps, so we may leave food out too long or not keep it hot enough.

The good news: Summer foodborne illness is preventable with some planning and precautions. Savor the warmer temperatures and seasonal food favorites of the upcoming season with these tips:

  • Check if drinkable water is available. If not, bring water for drinking and washing hands and surfaces. Bring soap, too. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before you begin to prepare food. Wash them again any time you do something that contaminates your hands, such as handling raw meat.
  • When packing food in a cooler, keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat food, such as buns, salads or cookies.
  • Use plenty of ice in coolers and replenish as needed. Blocks of ice last longer than cubes.
  • Keep beverage cans in a separate cooler from salads and other cold foods. Beverage coolers usually are opened more often, which allows the ice to melt.
  • Wash whole melons before slicing. Use a clean cutting board and clean knife.
  • Don't partially cook meat and finish it later at a picnic site. Cook meat completely at the site.
  • Remember your food thermometer! Cook burgers to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees. Cook beef steaks to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees. Cook poultry to a minimum temperature of 165 degrees.
  • On hot (above 90 degrees) days, leave perishable food outside no more than one hour.

Try this vitamin C-rich salad with grilled burgers and watermelon slices for a tasty summertime meal.

Broccoli Salad

6 c. chopped broccoli

1 c. raisins

1 medium peeled and diced red onion

2 Tbsp. sugar

8 cooked and crumbled bacon slices (optional)

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

3/4 c. mayonnaise, lowfat

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix well. Chill for one to two hours before serving.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 170 calories, 7 grams (g) of fat, 26 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of fiber and 80 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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