When in doubt, throw it out

Safe summer eating.

Warm summer weather means family barbeques, weddings, holiday parties, fundraisers, outdoor picnics, camping trips, equating to lots of food. Whether you are roasting meat and veggie shish kabobs over the campfire, cooking fun summer recipes in the kitchen or throwing a fresh catch of fish from the lake on some flames for dinner, there are many different ways to enjoy great food during the summer months. During the fun, you might not realize that you may have some “uninvited guests” that are enjoying your food as well – bacteria.

Foodborne illness is common, costly and preventable. Illness-causing bacteria (or germs) can be found in sick people and healthy people. Foodborne illness is a very serious matter resulting in 48 million illness cases (one in six people) and approximately 3,000 deaths every year in the United States. Salmonella and E. coli are the most commonly known, but Salmonella is the cause for the most hospitalizations and deaths over any other bacteria found in food. Besides those two there are five more foodborne illnesses. Almost all foodborne illnesses are caused by one of six pathogens: Salmonella Typhi, Norovirus, Hepatitis A, Shigella, Nontyphoidal Salmonella and E. coli.

These pathogens (disease causing agents) can show up at your family barbeque, best friend’s pool party or any summer event involving food. Common encounters with the “uninvited guest” occur when food is improperly cooked, not stored correctly, left out in the sun too long, forgotten and when good personal hygiene isn’t used. All of these instances give bacteria and viruses a chance to grow and take over the food you might consume, increasing your risk of foodborne illness.

Take charge of the “guest list” at summer events by taking precautions and remembering the healthy prevention practices:

  1. Wash your hands.
  2. Make sure the food is at the correct temperature for eating by using a stem thermometer (for meat or steak the lowest internal temperature should be 130 degrees Fahrenheit, chicken 165 degrees Fahrenheit, hamburger 158 degrees Fahrenheit and fish 140 degrees Fahrenheit).
  3. Before eating or serving, always check the appearance, odor, texture and color (especially fruits, vegetables, juices and cheeses).
  4. Once done eating, quickly cool any leftovers and put them in a refrigerator. Never leave food sitting out.
  5. When in doubt – throw it out (the best and easiest rule of them all). 

For more information on food safety read Every day food safety, a journal by Michigan State University Extension dietetic intern, Cait Melamed or the History of food safety in the U.S., which discusses the historical foodborne illness outbreaks and importance of food safety.

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