Traffic accidents or burns from fireworks may not be the greatest risk you’ll face on the 4th of July. Your biggest enemy could be the food you consume if you don’t handle, prepare and store it safely. Warm weather is a contributing factor, and sanitation can be tricky away from your own kitchen.
According to the food safety experts at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS), foodborne illnesses do increase during the summer, and the answer appears to be twofold. First, there are the natural causes. Bacteria are present throughout the environment in soil, air, water and in the bodies of people and animals. These microorganisms grow faster in the warm summer months. Most foodborne bacteria grow fastest at temperatures from 90 to 110° F. Bacteria also need moisture to flourish, and summer weather is often hot and humid. Given the right circumstances, harmful bacteria can quickly multiply.
A second reason for the summertime increase in foodborne illness is that outside activities increase in the summer, including eating outdoors. More people are cooking outside at picnics, barbecues and on camping trips. The safety controls that a kitchen provides — thermostat-controlled cooking, refrigeration and washing facilities — are usually not available.
When the bacteria grow to elevated levels, the chance of even healthy people experiencing disease symptoms goes up exponentially. Consumers can protect themselves by following these four simple steps to safer food in the summertime: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.
Clean: Wash Hands and Surfaces Often.
Separate: Don’t Cross-Contaminate. For example, don’t put cooked meats on the same platter that held the raw meat unless you wash or sanitize the platter first.
Cook: Always Cook to Safe Temperatures. Foods cooked on the grill can appear done long before they have reached the proper temperature necessary to kill all harmful bacteria, so check them with a food thermometer. Seevdacs.virginia.gov/foodsafety/
Chill: Refrigerate Promptly. Keep cold food cold in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, ice packs or containers of frozen water. Keep the cooler in the coolest part of the car, and place in the shade or shelter, out of the sun, whenever possible.
Finally: If in doubt, throw it out.