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Memorial Day Marks the Unofficial Start of Summer – Celebrate with a Picnic!

Our columnist shares tips for safe outdoor eating.

Memorial Day is often enjoyed with outside activities, picnics in the park and thoughts about keeping food safe. As summer begins to unfold take some time to learn about foodborne illness and proper techniques to keep your family safe.

Foodborne illness, often referred to as food poisoning, causes an estimated 48 million illnesses (1 out of 6 Americans), 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States. Fortunately, with a little bit of care when handling food most of these illnesses can be avoided.

The most common foodborne pathogens are salmonella, listeria and E.Coli. Foodborne pathogens are more commonly found in raw meat, fish and poultry but improper food handling – starting with how you put things in your grocery cart to how you store foods in your refrigerator - can spread bacteria to other foods.

There are four basic rules for food safety:

  • Wash hands often and properly
  • Keep raw foods away from prepared foods
  • Cook food to the proper temperature
  • Refrigerate foods promptly to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower

Proper hand washing includes warm, soapy water and length of time. When washing your hands sing two verses of “Happy Birthday” to ensure you are washing them long enough. Make sure you wash tops and bottoms of your hands while getting under your nails.

When you put foods into your grocery cart, refrigerator or cooler make sure you keep raw foods away from cooked foods or fresh produce to help reduce the risk of cross contamination of these other foods.

Proper temperature varies with the type of meat, fish, poultry or eggs but a great reference can be found here.

The final step in keeping food safe is storing it properly, which means 

  • The right size container—not too big, not too deep
  • The right temperature — below 40 degree Fahrenheit or in a zero degree freezer
  • The right amount of time—within two hours of serving unless the temperature is above 90 degrees when the amount of time out of the refrigerator is only one hour 

Since symptoms of foodborne illness are similar to those of the flu you may not recognize that you are suffering from foodborne illness so do two things – first, learn how to keep food safe as summer temperatures go up; and two, if you ever question the safety of food consider this motto – If in doubt, throw it out.

For more tips on food safety, try these resources:

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