Summer Food Safety

Summer time brings more outdoor activities and events: family reunions, graduation parties, weddings, church picnics, barbeques, fishing and camping trips. The common thread surrounding these activities is that electricity is seldom available, so proper food handling and storage is often an afterthought.  Caution is needed to prevent food-borne illnesses. According to the CDC, in 2007, 76 million people were sick, 325 thousand were hospitalized and 5,000 died from food-borne illnesses. These illnesses are on the rise for a variety of reasons: fewer locally grown produce sources, more big chain grocery stores, food is imported from all over the world, and nearly 50% of our food budget is spent on eating out or eating foods that other people handle and prepare.

People with a chronic disease, such as diabetes or heart disease, can be at increased risk for illness and can result in a lengthier time of illness or hospitalization. Uncontrolled diabetes can affect various organs and systems in your body causing illnesses to be more serious. The immune system may not recognize harmful bacteria/pathogens that can increase your risk of infection. In the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, cells that create stomach acid may be damaged or nerve damage in the stomach and intestinal tract may impede food movement (gastroparesis). Damaged kidneys may not be able to filter out bacteria, toxins and other pathogens.

You cannot always tell if food is contaminated by looking, smelling or tasting. Risks from problem foods depend on the origin or source and how it is processed, stored or prepared. To minimize risks follow the 4 rules of food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill.

Clean: Wash hands, surfaces, cutting boards, utensils, sponges and towels often. Wash or rinse fresh fruits/vegetables under running water, including those with rinds (melons and citrus fruits). Clean lids of canned goods before opening and check your canned products to ensure they are free of dents, cracks or bulging lids. Wash those recyclable grocery bags often!

Separate:  Avoid cross-contamination by separating raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs in your grocery cart, in grocery bags and in the refrigerator. It is important to prevent raw meat juices from dripping on other items. Using separate cutting boards and separate dishes can reduce risk of cross-contamination as well. Don’t reuse marinades that were used on raw foods.

Cook:  The color of food is not a reliable indicator of food doneness. Using a food thermometer can verify safe internal temperatures.

  • Cook eggs until yolks and whites are firm and in recipes, cook to 160ºF.
  • Cook seafood to 145ºF. When done, fish should be flaky and clams, mussels and oysters should be cooked until their shells open.
  • Cook roasts and steaks to >145 ºF, ground beef to >160 ºF, whole poultry to 180 ºF, processed foods t 165 ºF and heat leftovers to 165 ºF.
  • Sauces, gravies and soups should be heated to boiling.
  • NEVER partially grill meat/poultry to finish cooking later.
  • Keep hot foods hot and don’t keep them out of refrigeration for more than one hour if the temperature is over 90 ºF outside.

Chill: Use an appliance thermometer for safety: your refrigerator’s temperature should read at 40 ºF or below and the freezer should be held at 0 ºF or below.

  • Thaw foods safely in the fridge, under cold running water or in the microwave and cook immediately.
  • Refrigerate or freeze cooked food within 2 hours or within 1 hour if the outside temperature is above 90 ºF.
  • Marinate foods in the fridge, not on the counter.
  • Don’t pack the fridge too full as cool air needs room to circulate. Keep in mind also that shallow containers help foods cool more quickly.
  • Even a short trip from the grocery store may result in food getting too warm, especially if it is held in the trunk of your vehicle! Use a cooler/insulated bag/container and gel paks for transporting food. Keep them out of direct sunlight and not in the trunk.
  • Refrigerate perishable foods within 2 hours of purchasing, freeze poultry or ground meat within 2 days and freeze other meats within 4 days.
  • For picnics, use gel paks/ice for dips, egg containing items, salad dressings, products that contain mayo, etc.
  • Be careful if the power goes out; foods can perish easily. When in doubt, throw it out!

Food product dating information is also helpful:

  • Sell-by” date means how long the store can display that product for sale
  • Best if used by (or before)” date is the deadline recommended for best flavor or quality
  • Use by” date is the last date recommended for use of product while at peak quality. This date is determined by the manufacturer.

Symptoms of food-borne illnesses are often flu-like: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. The primary dangers are weakness, dehydration, and uncontrolled blood glucose ranges due to impaired insulin absorption. General “sick day” guidelines include contacting your Health Care Provider, increasing fluid intake (not always sugar-free), testing blood glucose (and for some people, urine ketones) every 4 to 6 hours, continuing diabetes medications and checking your temperature for fever. Be careful using over the counter remedies (OTC’s); check with your Health Care Provider or Pharmacist regarding possible drug interactions. If a particular food item is suspect or if contaminated food is from an eating establishment, contact your local health department.

Additional information can be found at  www.homefoodsafety.org and www.foodsafety.gov

Photo credit: http://www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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