Summer food preparation safety tips
Joyce Martin RD, LDN | 06.14.13
It is once again the time of year for picnics, reunions, and events which are held out of doors in the afternoon heat. That also presents the perfect time for increased incidents of food borne illness.
A food borne illness is defined as an illness resulting from eating or drinking a food or beverage which has been contaminated by disease causing microbes or pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Protein rich foods and meats are particularly susceptible to forborne illness. Bacteria need moisture and food to survive so this makes starchy and creamy dishes vulnerable. This includes foods such as potato and macaroni salads, egg dishes, creamed soups, and puddings. Many times these foods are a part of those summer picnics. Certain populations are more susceptible to food borne illnesses and include young children, the elderly, and persons whose immune systems are compromised.
Most food borne illnesses can be prevented by some basic, yet specific measures:
- Wash your hands and counter tops often.
- Consider using paper towels to clean off counter tops. These can be thrown away along with the germs.
- Make certain that cutting boards are washed with hot soapy water.
- Wash fresh fruits and vegetables under running water while scrubbing. Scrub with a vegetable brush if the texture allows.
- When grilling meats, always place the cooked product onto a clean plate rather than the plate that the raw meat was on when it was carried to the grill.
- Separate raw foods from fresh foods in your shopping cart.
- Place raw meats on the lower refrigerator shelf in a container to avoid meat juices from contaminating fresh foods.
- Don’t “cross-contaminate.” Never cut raw fruits and vegetables or cooked meats on the same board that has been used to cut raw meats unless the board has been washed prior to cutting the raw vegetables. It is preferable to use different cutting boards for different food items. Cutting boards can be purchased in various colors to identify the food which should be used on that particular board.
- When marinating meats, never taste or use the marinade as a dressing or sauce without first boiling.
- Cook all foods to the proper temperatures:
- Ground Beef-155 degrees F
- Fish-145 degrees F
- Poultry-165 degrees F
- Left-overs-165 degrees F
- During the hot summer months, place perishables in an ice chest for transporting home from the supermarket.
- Transport foods in a thermal chest/container to the picnic or event to maintain the hot or cold temperature of the food.
- If the dish is to be served cold, place the serving container in another container which is filled with ice.
- After the meal is finished place the food back into the controlled temperature (ice chest). Discard any food left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature was above 90 degrees F).
- Remember the Danger Zone—41-140 degrees. Bacteria or germs grow most quickly in these temperatures. Keeping foods out of this temperature range will help to prevent bacteria from growing and resulting in illness.
- When needing to defrost foods, do so by one of the following methods:
- Defrost in the refrigerator.
- Defrost under cold running water.
- Defrost in the microwave and cook immediately.
If needing to chill food after cooking, cool food as quickly as possible. Food that is not cooled fast enough is one of the leading causes of food borne illness.
- Place in shallow containers to chill.
- Place the container of the food, in cold water with ice.
- Stir the food frequently as it cools.
- Be sure to have food cooled from 140 degrees to 70 degrees within 2 hours, and from 70 degrees to 41 degrees within 4 hours for a total cooling time of no longer than 6 hours.
- Put the cooled foods into the refrigerator or freezer.
Follow these simple tips and you are guaranteed a more enjoyable, safe and healthy picnic!
Written by Joyce Martin RD, LDN
Joyce Martin RD, LDN is a clinical dietitian with Nutrition Services at WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital.