As the weather heats up particularly in the West, many will be planning to make the most of the sun by dining al fresco at barbecues and picnics. However, eating outdoors also brings with it the risk of food poisoning if dishes are not prepared and stored correctly, with summer’s high temperatures providing the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive. To help prevent foodborne illness from ruining your event, we round up some expert food safety advice.
Take care with temperatures
Although people normally blame dishes such as potato salad for food poisoning, problems rarely arise from a food like mayonnaise alone, according to Ben Chapman, a food safety researcher at North Carolina State University. For bacteria to become a problem, there has to be combination of a food such as mayonnaise and other salad ingredients, plus poor hygiene and poor temperature control, which is when food isn’t kept below 41°F.
“For example, above 90°F, foodborne pathogens in potato salad increase tenfold in as quickly as an hour,” Chapman says. “In ideal temperatures for bacteria, such as body temperature, bacterial populations can double in less than 20 minutes.”
When it comes to meat, Dr. Ross Rodgers, an emergency medicine physician at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, advises using a meat thermometer to ensure that it is cooked to the appropriate temperature to kill any viruses or bacteria, and to always serve it hot.
If in doubt use shop-bought mayonnaise
A big reason that mayonnaise rarely causes foodborne illness nowadays is because most people buy their mayonnaise, rather than making it from scratch.
“Commercially produced mayonnaise is acidified to reduce spoilage and kill off human pathogens,” Chapman says. “It’s really low risk on its own.”
If you are making mayo at home then Chapman’s advice is “Pick a recipe that uses pasteurized egg products and incorporates acid, such as vinegar or lemon juice, to reduce risk. And refrigeration is still incredibly important, as recipes may not incorporate enough acid to address risks.”
Fruit and veggies also come with risks
Although most people know to be careful with raw meat, seafood, poultry and eggs, Dr. Rodgers says some are not aware that the same types of viruses and bacteria can be present on produce and other types of food including fresh produce.
“Fresh fruits and vegetables are responsible for more outbreaks of foodborne illness than any other type of food; they’ve been linked to 46 percent of foodborne illnesses between 1998 and 2008,” adds Chapman.
To avoid any problems, both recommend washing fruit and vegetables thoroughly. Also make sure you wash your hands and do not use the same cutting board for meats and fresh produce.
For more information on how to stay safe and healthy this summer head to the websites of the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and FDA.gov. JB