It’s July, and barbeque season is well underway. Local farmers’ markets are providing an abundance of fresh produce that hasn’t flown halfway around the globe. And some of us are patiently coaxing fresh peas, beans, tomatoes and zucchini in our backyard gardens.
Soaring temperatures, however, create the perfect environment for bacteria and other pathogens to grow rapidly and cause foodborne illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), some 48 million people become ill every year from contaminated food eaten in the United States.
Fortunately, taking simple precautions can keep our food not only healthy, but safe.
“Summer is the perfect time to eat a variety of fresh, healthy foods,” Burke Registered Dietitian Patricia Coar said. “By following basic rules for handling, cooking and storing food—especially when packing coolers—you can protect from unnecessary illness and enjoy the fun!”
Nearly half of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. are caused by germs on fresh produce, so here are the basic tips for avoiding illness:
- Choose fruits and vegetables that aren’t bruised or damaged. Be sure precut produce is refrigerated or kept on ice.
- Separate produce from raw meats/poultry/fish in your shopping cart and grocery bags.
Prepping Produce at Home
- Wash your hands, kitchen utensils, and food preparation surfaces, including chopping boards and countertops, before and after preparing fruits and vegetables.
- Clean fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, or cooking. Wash or scrub fruits and vegetables under running water—even if you do not plan to eat the peel—so dirt and germs on the surface do not get inside when you cut. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas before preparing or eating.
- Dry cleaned fruit or vegetables with a clean paper towel.
- Separate fruits and vegetables from raw foods from animals such as meat, poultry, and seafood.
- Refrigerate fruits and vegetables you have cut, peeled, or cooked within two hours (one hour if the outside temperature is 90°F or warmer). Chill them at 40°F or colder in a clean container.
In addition to the many raw fruits and veggies we consume in the summer, Americans eat large quantities of grilled meats, poultry and seafood. Here are some basic steps recommended by the CDC for handling the raw foods you plan to grill.
Separating Raw Meats
- In the store, pick up meat, poultry and seafood last, and separate them from other foods in your shopping cart and grocery bags.
- Put packages of raw meat, poultry and seafood into individual plastic bags.
- Keep meat, poultry and seafood refrigerated until you are ready to grill.
- If transporting, keep them in an insulated cooler below 40°F. Keep raw foods in a separate cooler from other foods and drinks.
- Wash your hands with soap before and after handling raw meat/poultry/seafood.
- Do not wash the raw meat or poultry.
- Wash all work surfaces, grill surface and tools before cooking.
- If you use a wire grill brush, check grates for wire fragments, and wipe with a damp paper towel.
- Use a meat thermometer to be sure you have cooked your items to the temperature necessary for killing germs. (145°F for whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal; 145°F for fish; 155°F for hamburgers and other ground beef; 165°F for all poultry and pre-cooked meats, like hot dogs.)
- After cooking, keep all meat/poultry/fish at 145°F until serving.
- Throw out marinades and sauces that have touched raw meat juices, which can spread germs to cooked foods.
- Use clean utensils and a clean plate to remove cooked meat from the grill.
Storing Cooked Meats
- Divide cooked meats/poultry/fish into small portions in covered, shallow containers for refrigerating or freezing.
- Refrigerate within two hours of cooking (or one hour of temperature is above 90°F).
Burke maintains a strong focus on diet education and provide individual and group nutrition- education sessions to patients and staff as well as the community. To watch Burke's Nutrition 101 videos, or to learn more about Nutrition Services, click here.