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Preventing Foodborne Illness


Foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning, is more prevalent in warmer weather. There's a higher risk of foodborne illness in the summertime because foodborne bacteria grow fastest at temperatures from 90 to 110 °F. Also, more people cook outside at picnics, barbecues and camping trips, away from refrigeration and washing facilities that a kitchen provides.

To keep food safe during summer, the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture recommends we "Clean," "Separate," "Cook" and "Chill":

Clean:

Wash Hands and Surfaces Often. Unwashed hands and cooking and eating surfaces are a prime cause of foodborne illness.

  • Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets.
  • When eating away from home, find out if there's a source of clean water. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning. Or pack clean, wet, disposable washcloths, moist towelettes or antibacterial hand gel and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.

Separate:

Don't Cross-Contaminate. Cross-contamination during preparation, grilling and serving food can lead to foodborne illness.

  • When packing the cooler chest for an outing, wrap raw meats securely; avoid raw meat juices from coming in contact with ready-to-eat food.
  • Wash plates, utensils, and cutting boards that held the raw meat or poultry before using again for cooked food.
  • Do not use marinade that's been used for raw meats to baste food once you've started to cook. Instead, set aside some of the marinade before you add the raw meat, poultry or fish.
  • Do not use the loose ice used to pack your cooler as ice for your drinks. Pack beverage ice in separate, resealable bags.

Cook:

Cook to Proper Temperatures. Food is properly cooked when it's heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

  • Take your thermometer along. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside, so be sure that meats are cooked thoroughly. Check them with a food thermometer.
  • Cook steaks and roasts that have been tenderized, boned, rolled, etc., to an internal temperature of 160 °F for medium and 170 °F for well-done. Whole steaks and roasts may be cooked to 145 °F for medium rare.
  • Whole poultry should be cooked to 180 °F in the thigh; breast meat to 170 °F.
  • Cook hamburger and other ground meats (veal, lamb, and pork) to an internal temperature of 160 °F, and ground poultry to 165 °F.
  • Properly cooked fish should flake easily with a fork.
  • Cook meat and poultry completely at the picnic site. Partial cooking of food ahead of time allows bacteria to survive and multiply to the point that subsequent cooking cannot destroy them.

Chill:

Refrigerate Promptly. Holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of foodborne illness. Keep cold food cold.

  • Marinate raw meat, poultry and fish in a covered dish in the refrigerator. Do not let marinating foods sit on the counter. Transport in a cooler separate from ready-to-eat foods.
  • Cold refrigerated perishable food like luncheon meats, cooked meats, chicken, and potato or pasta salads should be kept in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, ice packs, or containers of frozen water.
  • Consider packing canned beverages in one cooler and perishable food in another cooler because the beverage cooler will probably be opened frequently. Keep coolers in the coolest part of the car, and place in the shade or shelter, out of the sun, whenever possible.
  • If the ice starts to melt, put more into the cooler.