Safe Summer Eating

Experts offer tips for food safety at picnics, barbecues

THURSDAY, July 4, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Barbecues, picnics and poolside meals are favorite activities for many people on the Fourth of July holiday and through much of the summer.

Just don't let foodborne illness put a chill on your hot weather outdoor cooking and eating.

All you need to do is follow a few simple precautions, says Marlene Clark, a registered dietician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She says there are millions of cases of foodborne illness in the United States each year, and most of them occur from May to September.

Clark says foodborne illness often has flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever, and many people don't realize their illness is caused by bacteria or other pathogens in food. Those at greatest risk from foodborne illness include very young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems.

Raw meats, dairy products, poultry and seafood aren't the only products that present a risk of foodborne illness. Even fresh produce or prepackaged foods may harbor potentially dangerous bacteria, Clark says.

She says you should thoroughly clean all your foods before you eat them.

Clark offers the following safety tips for preparing outdoor meals:

  • Wash your hands often. When you're preparing numerous foods together, your hands may pass bacteria from one food to another. If you wash your hands with warm soapy water for at least 15 seconds before preparing foods and after handling raw meats, you'll reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
  • Keep raw meats away from ready-to-eat and cooked foods. Juices from raw meat can contaminate other foods. Use separate cutting boards -- one for raw meat and the other for fruits and vegetables.
  • Cook your large cuts of meat thoroughly. It's okay to have some pink in the center of that juicy steak, but make sure the outside is cooked to a dark brown. Barbecued poultry and seafood must be cooked throughout. A food thermometer will help you check the proper cooked temperature of all your foods.
  • Plates that have had raw meat on them need to be washed immediately. Don't put cooked meat on an unwashed plate that held raw meat.
  • Keep your hot food hot, and your cold food cold. Cold foods such as potato salad should stay chilled, while hot foods such as steaks or chicken should be covered in tin foil to retain heat. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as you can in order to reduce bacteria growth.
  • Manage your melons with care because they pose a risk if they're not properly prepared or stored. Before you cut a melon, wash the outer surface to remove dirt. Once it's cut, a melon has to be stored in ice or kept in a refrigerator. Cut melons can be served for a maximum of four hours if they aren't refrigerated.
  • Foods prepared with mayonnaise or foods high in protein should never be kept out longer than two hours. Remember that bacteria can multiply in moist foods such as salads and desserts.

More information

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has these tips on summer cookouts.

Robert Preidt and Consumer news

Updated on June 15, 2022

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