Prevent food-borne illness at summer gatherings

Food safety basics can keep food poisoning from spoiling summer picnics and cookouts, says a state health official. 

"Hot weather is a food safety challenge because bacteria in food multiply faster anytime the temperature is above 40 degrees," said Clark Hepper, health protection administrator for the Department of Health.

Hepper recommended the following steps for cooking outdoor meals:

  • Start with hand-washing. Use moist disposable towelettes if soap and water aren't available.
  • Keep raw foods separate from cooked foods. If a plate held raw meat, don't use it again without first washing it in hot, soapy water.
  • Marinate foods in the refrigerator, not on the counter or outdoors, and don't reuse marinade. For use as a sauce, set some aside before adding food.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure food is cooked thoroughly. Cook hamburgers to 160 degrees and chicken to at least 165 degrees.
  • Keep hot food hot (140 degrees or above) and cold food cold (40 degrees or below).
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftover food promptly. Don't let perishable foods sit out longer than two hours; no more than one if temperatures are above 90 degrees.

Food-borne illnesses often go unreported so the actual number of cases is likely higher than what's reported. In 2011, South Dakota reported nearly 500 cases of the food-borne illnesses E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter.

To date in 2012, more than 200 cases of such illnesses have been reported, as well as nearly 100 cases of clostridium perfringens associated with improperly cooked and stored meat at a special event. These diseases can also be spread directly by farm animals and their manure.

Symptoms of food-borne illness can include mild or severe diarrhea, fever, vomiting and abdominal pain. Some people may need fluids to prevent dehydration but most will recover at home without medication.

Learn more on the department site, http://doh.sd.gov/HealthProtection/, or the FDA site at http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm094562.htm.

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