Consider Food Safety This Fourth of July

6/21/2012

In the summer and particularly on the Fourth of July, barbecues are a way of life. From grilled burgers and chicken to homemade potato salad and coleslaw, nothing beats a barbecue – especially when food safety remains a priority.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of six people in the United States suffer a food-borne illness each year. As a result, more than 100,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die. The young, the elderly, and the ill are most susceptible to severe reactions to food-borne illnesses.

The good news is that food-borne illnesses are largely preventable. Just be sure to follow these guidelines:

Give all fruits and vegetables a good washing. Washing decreases, but does not eliminate, the risk of contamination in fruits and vegetables. For this reason, in addition to washing, it is helpful to know whether or not foods were grown and processed in sanitary conditions. Learn more about the brands you buy through online research. Or support your local farmers’ market to become better acquainted with local food sources.

Thoroughly cook your meat and eggs. Raw animal products are most likely to be contaminated. Unpasteurized milk, raw eggs, raw shellfish and raw meat are the most dangerous. Making sure your eggs have a firm yolk and cooking your meat to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees helps kill parasites, bacteria and viruses.

“Perhaps most importantly, avoid cross-contamination by washing your cutting boards, knives and other utensils, and mixing bowls after each use. And don’t forget to wash your hands,” says Liz Choate, Dietitian at Jackson Purchase Medical Center. “This will minimize the possibility of passing contaminants from one food to another. It’s also important to keep your countertops clean with an anti-bacterial cleanser.”

Do not prepare foods more than one day in advance, unless it is to be frozen. Cooking foods in advance allows more opportunity for bacteria to grow. Cooked foods should be rapidly cooled in shallow pans, rather than just left on the counter to cool. Spread the food out in as many pans as needed so that food is no more than two inches deep. Over 67 percent of reported cases of food-borne illness are due to improper cooling. Frozen foods can be used if thawed in the refrigerator.

Keep foods covered to prevent contamination by insects. Many insects can carry harmful bacteria and viruses on their bodies.

Refrigerate leftovers quickly or dispose of them. Food that sits at room temperature can very quickly develop bacteria. To preserve freshness and increase safety, refrigerate your leftovers as soon as possible. When in doubt, throw it out.
So, this summer, consider food safety as you prepare, serve and store food for your family and friends. Enjoy barbecues and picnics, and the many magnificent fruits and vegetables readily available during these months. In your spare time, research food processing practices and local growers and restaurants. And don’t forget to take in the colors and smells that come with cooking fresh ingredients.

For more information on food safety, visit www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/prevention.html.

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