Food safety is the "secret ingredient" in all summer meals (indoors and out)! According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 1 in 6 Americans get sick from contaminated foods or beverages and 3,000 die each year as a result of food-borne diseases. The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirms that foodborne illnesses DO increase during the summer.
What many people forget is that children, older adults, and anyone with immune-compromised disorders are more susceptible to bacteria and viruses in food.
The most practical tips for food safety are: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill, according to the Food Safety division of USDA. It’s important to wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food - and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets. Remember to clean cooking surfaces and utensils with soap and hot water to remove harmful bacteria.
Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from fruits, vegetables, and cooked foods when preparing meals and storing them in the refrigerator. NEVER defrost food at room temperature. This should only be done in the refrigerator. The microwave or cold water is an alternate method though food must be cooked when thawed.
As for temperature: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Cooking to the correct internal temperature is important; and a meat thermometer is essential. The three numbers to know are: 160 °F (71.1 °C) for ground meats and egg dishes; 145 °F (62.8 °C) for beef, veal, pork, and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops (allow the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or consuming); and 165 °F (73.9 °C) for all poultry, casseroles, and reheating leftovers.
In the summer it’s especially important to chill food soon after cooking and serving. USDA says, “Don’t leave food out for more than 2 hours or 1 hour at temperatures above 90 ˚F (32.2 °C). Yes, there are recommended temperatures here too. Maintain the refrigerator temperature at 40 °F (4.4 °C) or below. Keep freezer at 0 °F (-17.7 °C) or below.
Thermometers are the best way to ensure safety and best results. Food, refrigerator, freezer and oven thermometers should always be used. Check them periodically to be sure they’re working properly.
Likewise, there are lots of different types of freezer packs, thermal bags and large thermoses to keep foods safe. Always pack hand sanitizer and/or hand wipes especially for picnics and beaches.
Don’t let your friends and family be a statistic; and don’t let food contamination spoil your fun. The good new is that it’s preventable! Remember: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill are the ways to keep food safe.