Food Safety During Outdoor Summer Events
By: Devon Mendez
Even with COVID limiting the number of summer events going on this year, many individuals are still finding time to meet in small groups to enjoy some sunshine. Whether this means a barbeque in the backyard with friends, or a picnic in the park, good food safety practices are important in preventing foodborne illness. Rates of foodborne illness, often referred to as “food poisoning,” typically are higher in the summer than other times of year. Proper handling and storage of food is of the upmost importance to ensure the health of you and your family at these events.
What causes most foodborne illness?
The simple answer to this question is bacteria, though viruses can be the culprits as well. Since bacteria grow everywhere in our environment, it is imperative that we are aware of the risks and ensure that we keep food at safe temperatures. Typically, the danger zone for bacterial growth occurs between 40 to 140 degrees F, making it extremely important to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. While many of these bacteria should be mitigated during food processing, there is always a chance that they may be present. It is for this reason that properly handling and cooking food is imperative to keeping everyone healthy. In the summer, safety may need to be considered in grilling and making sure that foods that need to be refrigerated are not left out too long.
What can you do to keep you and your food safe?
When cooking and consuming food outdoors, the Center for Foodborne Illness (CFI) recommends following six major steps to help minimize the risk of you and your loved ones getting sick from eating during your outdoor activities. These steps include:
- Utilize safe water and raw materials
- Avoid high risk foods associated with recalls.
- Use clean water to wash all fruits and vegetables.
- If you are unsure if a food is safe, throw it out.
- Clean hands and surfaces
- Hands should be washed using warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds to ensure they are clean.
- Hands should be washed after handling food, using the restroom, or handling pets.
- Use disposable wipes, moist towelettes or paper towels to clean surfaces.
- Surfaces should be cleaned often and every time a different food is being prepared.
- Separate different foods
- Cross contamination is a major cause of food borne illness and is often caused when raw meats or other dirty food encounters another food source, depositing bacteria.
- Cross contamination can be avoided by using different cutting boards for different food types (i.e.- one cutting board for raw meats and another for fruits and vegetables).
- Ensure all food kept in coolers, especially raw meats, are properly packaged so they do not leak juices onto other foods.
- Avoid putting cooked food on the same plate as raw food.
- Cook foods to proper temperatures
- Using a thermometer when cooking meats is key to ensuring food has reached the proper temperature and is safe to eat.
- Cook all meats to the USDA recommended internal temperatures:
- Poultry (whole, pieces & ground): 165 °F /74 °C
- Ground meats: 160 °F /71 °C
- Beef, pork, lamb, and veal (steaks, roasts & chops): 145 °F /63 °C
- Keep cold foods cold and refrigerate foods as soon as possible after cooking
- It is imperative that all foods that are meant to be cold stay cold to avoid bacterial growth. This can be done by leaving the foods in an ice filled cooler or putting food out in bowls of ice water to keep it cool while people fill their plates.
- If possible, keep canned beverages and food in separate coolers so there is less interference with proper cooling of food.
- Keep food and coolers out of the sun.
- Make sure ice in the cooler is replenished as needed to ensure food stays at a safe temperature.
- Report any known foodborne illness
- If you become ill, especially if you have bloody diarrhea, go to the doctor and get tested.
- If you test positive for a foodborne illness, report it.
- Many foodborne illnesses are never reported, making it hard to keep track of the issue.
By following these simple steps, you and your loved ones can significantly reduce the chances of contracting a foodborne illness at your next outdoor barbeque or family picnic. This will also reduce your chance for a hospital visit, something that many would prefer to avoid with COVID-19 cases increasing by the day.
CFAES Graduate Practicum Student
Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and College of Public Health