2005-08-04 / Editorial Page

Hot weather and foodborne illness

News for Families & Consumers The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service Martha Partridge Family & Consumer Science Agent Lincoln & Wilkes Counties

The degrees seem to climb higher every day of late, and that means it is time to think about how to stay safe and healthy on your warm weather outings. More cases of foodborne illness normally rise during the summer because harmful bacteria that may be present in foods grow faster in the warm temperatures. And since bacteria also needs moisture to flourish, warm, humid summer weather is just a picnic for them!

To keep your picknickers safe from foodborne illness, follow these four simple steps to safer food in the summertime.

Tip #1: Clean. Wash hands and surfaces often. Unwashed hands and surfaces are the perfect way for bacteria to make their way into the food. Often at a picnic or camp site, handwashing facilities are not readily available. In those cases where there is no water available, pack clean, wet, disposable cloths or moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces. Plan the menu carefully so that you don’t have raw meats and poultry chopped on surfaces like cutting boards that can’t be cleaned without soap and water and plenty of it.

Tip #2: Separate. Don’t cross-contaminate.

When packing the cooler for an outing, it is best to take one cooler for raw meats, poultry, fish and eggs, and a separate cooler for ready-to-eat foods. If only one cooler is used, it is essential to wrap meat and poultry very securely to prevent juices from coming in contact with ready-to-eat food.

If serving a food that will be marinated, marinate it in the refrigerator before you leave home or in the cooler with ice, not out at room temperature or outdoors on the table. If some of the marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, take out that portion of the marinade and set it aside for later use. Don’t put raw meat and poultry in it and then use the marinade on the cooked product.

The only way to safely reuse it is to boil it first to destroy bacteria that may be in it. Use clean plates and utensils with the safely cooked food, not the ones with raw meat juices on them.

Tip #3: Cook. Cook to proper temperatures.

Food is safely cooked when it reaches the safe internal temperature needed to kill harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Take along a food thermometer. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside, so be sure that they are cooked thoroughly, you need to check them with a food thermometer. Cook hamburgers and other ground meats (veal, lamb and pork) to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F and ground poultry to 165 degrees F. Beef, veal and lamb steaks and roasts may be cooked to 145 degrees F for medium rare or to 160 degrees F for medium. Whole poultry should be cooked to 180 degrees F as measured in the thigh, breast meat to 170 F. All cuts of pork should reach 160 F. Cook meat and poultry completely at the picnic site. Partial cooking of food ahead of time allows bacteria to multiply to the point that subsequent cooking cannot destroy them.

Tip #4: Chill. Refrigerate promptly. Holding food at the wrong temperature is a prime cause of foodborne illness. Never leave food in the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees F for more than two hours or one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees F. Cold foods like luncheon meats, cooked meats, chicken and potato or pasta salads should be kept in an insulated cooler with lots of ice or frozen gel packs. Keep the cooler in the coolest part of the car and place in the shade or shelter, out of the sun, whenever possible. Chill cold drinks in a separate cooler so that the cooler with the perishable foods is not constantly being opened.

Clean, separate, cook and chill your way to a safe summer outing!

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