VA Maryland Health Care System
VA Maryland Health Care System Offers Summer Food Safety Tips
Summer time always brings a spike in foodborne illnesses, which are especially troublesome for at-risk populations such as infants and young children, pregnant women, older adults and people with weakened immune systems caused by cancer treatment, diabetes, AIDS and bone marrow and organ transplants. Why does food poisoning spike the same time temperatures spike? Higher temperatures cause natural bacteria—microrganisms—to grow more quickly. Many foodborne bacteria grow fastest at temperatures that are between 90 degrees and 110 degrees F. Summer weather is hot and humid and the humidity gives bacteria the much needed moisture to grow. Also, an increase in outdoor activities such as barbeques, camping trips and picnics prompt people to prepare, cook and eat outdoors, away from the kitchen’s washing, cooking and refrigeration facilities. Valerie Adegunleye, MS, RD, site manager for Nutrition & Food Service and a Certified Serve-Safe Instructor at the VA Maryland Health Care System, says that four easy steps---clean, separate, cook and chill—can prevent harmful bacteria from making your friends and family sick this summer. It is time to fight back against foodborne illnesses by implementing these simple precautions!
Simple Precautions to Help Prevent Food Poisoning
• Wash hands.
• Avoid cross-contamination of foods.
• Cook meats thoroughly.
• Keep cold foods cold - below 40 degrees F.
• Keep hot foods hot - above 140 degrees F.
• Refrigerate leftovers immediately.
Prevent Illness by Washing Hands Frequently
• Wash hands with soap and water before and after handling raw meats.
• Where running water is unavailable, set up a make-shift hand washing station using hand soap and a container with a spigot, filled with warm water.
• As a last resort, waterless hand sanitizers or disposable hand wipes can be used.
• Everyone should wash hands before eating to prevent passing germs to food.
Cook Meats Thoroughly
The safest way to ensure meats are cooked well enough is to use a food thermometer.
• Ground beef patties or hamburger: 160 degrees F - insert thermometer in center of patty.
• Chicken: 165 degrees F - you may prefer a higher temperature for traditional taste and texture.
• Hot dogs: 165 degrees F.
• Beef, veal, and lamb cuts: 145 degrees F.
Consider serving chicken that has been precooked and chilled or cooking chicken pieces in advance by boiling or microwaving in your kitchen before barbecuing. Take-out chicken is also a potential hazard if not kept hot or completely chilled before serving.
Prepare Salads Properly
While mayonnaise has been implicated as a cause of food poisoning, the real culprits in salads are the other ingredients (such as potatoes, eggs, pasta, and tuna) that are often combined with mayonnaise before being thoroughly chilled and then left at room temperature for several hours. Bacteria can be introduced and multiply while ingredients are warm. Thoroughly chill salad ingredients, including mayonnaise, before combining. Even canned tuna needs to be pre-chilled, unless you will be eating it immediately after opening the can.
Transport potato, macaroni and other salads on ice to keep them cold. When outdoors, consider nesting the salad bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice.
Wash Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
• Nearly all types of fruits and vegetables have been implicated in foodborne illnesses.
• All fruits and vegetables should be washed with running water before cooking and/or serving.
• Use a vegetable brush and running water (no soap) to clean the outside of melons. Bacteria and other pathogens can be transferred to the inside of the fruit or vegetable by cutting through it.
• Cut melons, fruits and vegetables should be kept cold. When served outdoors, consider placing the serving dish on ice or immediately store in an ice chest after serving.
Store Leftovers Properly
• Store leftovers in an ice chest right away. Food left out for more than two hours should be discarded.
• Baked goods, chips and unopened drinks are safe to serve later without refrigeration.
Cook and Clean Properly
• Clean utensils and cutting surfaces to avoid contamination from raw meat to other foods.
• Use a different utensil and dish for cooking than what is used for serving. For example, do not return cooked meat to a dish that held raw meat.
• Wash utensils and surfaces with hot soapy water, then rinse.