JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
Nothing puts a damper on a summer cookout like the tuna salad that spent too much time in the sun and is now churning in the stomachs of your guests.
While symptoms of foodborne illnesses can be just a minor inconvenience for some, each year there are more than 3,000 food poisoning-related deaths in America. Some incidences are unavoidable, but there are common issues that cause most of the cases.
"The main culprit for food sicknesses during the summer is improper storage of ready-to-eat foods such as potato or macaroni salad," said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jerome Montoya, Non Commissioned Officer in charge of the preventive medicine department at Brooke Army Medical Center. "The close second is the consumption of under cooked food."
Below are tips to help decrease the chances of food-born illnesses while enjoying summer cookouts.
Keep Hot Foods Hot & Cold Foods Cold
While transporting foods such as meats and easily perishable items, coolers are recommended to help maintain safe temperatures before cooking or serving. Montoya says leaving foods at an unsafe temperature for too long can quickly lead to food poisoning because bacteria multiply rapidly between 40 degrees and 139 degrees Fahrenheit.
"If foods are not kept at a safe temperature they can grow bacteria and spoil, making the items a breeding ground for a foodborne illness outbreak," Montoya said. "The general rule is the same room temperature that humans like to dwell in is the same that bacteria thrive in."
By using the smallest containers possible and properly using methods such as dry ice or food heaters, outdoor chefs can ensure food safety before, during and after cooking.
An issue with cooking outdoors is that many times the food is transported in the same cooler or bags, increasing the chances of cross contamination. Also, due to limited surface space, raw and cooked foods are sometimes very close. Montoya offers a few solid words of advice: keep it separate, or you are sure to get sick.
"When storing items in a cooler full of ice make sure that the containers of food are secured properly," Montoya said. "If contaminated water from dirty hands/items seep into the food, you can also cross contaminate your foods."
According to the Center for Disease Control, even after you've cleaned your hands and surfaces thoroughly, raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can still spread illness-causing bacteria to ready-to-eat foods--unless you keep them separate. Use separate cutting boards, plates, and utensils for raw produce, uncooked meat, poultry, seafood and eggs.
Be a watch dog for washing hands and all utensils
Ensure soap and hand sanitizer is readily available for individual use. Running water may not be available depending on the location, so Montoya suggests bringing water, soap and sanitizing wipes whenever cooking outside.
"The most important thing that can be done to prevent foodborne illness during the summer is good personal hygiene and food handling practices," Montoya said.
The CDC recommends washing surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water. Surfaces and cutting boards should be cleaned with a bleach solution.
Even the best chefs use a food thermometer
"During the summer many people like to barbeque and while we all like to be the masters of the grill, we need to incorporate a few important safety measures," Montoya said. "You want to ensure that you are cooking all food to the proper temperature.
Just visually inspecting it doesn't mean that it has reached the proper temperature.
The temperature standards for various meats include:
· Beef, veal and lamb steaks, roasts and chops, 145 ° (Steaks can be safely cooked to medium because harmful bacteria in beef are found on the surface of the steak, not in the interior like in ground meats)
· All cuts of pork, 160 °
· Ground beef, veal and lamb, 160 °
· All poultry, 165 °
· Heat hot dogs and any leftover food to 165 °
It is also important to clean the thermometer after each use to prevent cross contamination.
While the above tips can certainly help prevent food poisoning or food-related illness, Montoya said, it is still fairly common to get, and people should practice good judgment on when to seek treatment.
"Many people actually acquire a foodborne illness at least once in their lifetime and usually realize it rather quickly but do nothing to combat it," Montoya said. "The signs and symptoms to look for are nausea, bloody diarrhea, temperatures of 101 °F or higher, or diarrhea for longer than a three-day period. Many foodborne illnesses will pass through the body without treatment, but it is best if you feel any of the symptoms listed to seek medical attention."