Cookouts and picnics are frequent and honored traditions of summer, a time for family and friends to gather, socialize and have fun. But summer outings can be ruined if safe food handling and preparation techniques aren't observed. Hot summer temperatures can help food-borne bacteria multiply at a rapid pace, spoiling food and causing illness. Outbreaks of food poisoning that caused illness and death in other parts of the country underscore the importance of proper food handling.
When left unrefrigerated, many foods can become contaminated with bacteria that produce the dangerous toxins that cause food poisoning. These bacteria are undetectable by sight, smell or taste and thrive on foods that are left out for very long, especially at warmer, summer temperatures.
Foodborne illness symptoms are much like those of the flu, which include headache, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and fever. These signs may not appear until several hours to several days after eating a contaminated food. Food poisoning can be especially harmful for children, older adults, pregnant women and those with chronic illnesses.
Meat, poultry, fish, and eggs should never be eaten raw. These foods should be maintained in a refrigerator at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and cooked thoroughly before eating. A cooking temperature of 160 degrees is advised. When cooking, use a meat thermometer or follow these tips:
• Cook it until the meat is white, and don't eat it if you see blood or pink meat.
• Cook it until there are no traces of pink in the center, or blood in the juices.
• Can be safely cooked medium; that's because harmful bacteria in beef are found on the surface of the steak, not in the interior like in ground meats.
• Cook until it flakes easily and is no longer translucent in the center.
• Cook eggs and egg dishes thoroughly. Don't even sample anything containing raw eggs such as uncooked dough and cake batter.
• Keep foods cold, below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or hot, above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Foods left out between those temperatures for more than two hours should be discarded.
• Keep cooked foods separate from raw foods. Cross-contamination of foods could occur if bacteria-harboring raw food comes in contact with cooked foods. Wash hands, utensils, cutting boards and countertops after preparing or handling raw meats.
• Avoid interrupted cooking. If you are partially cooking foods indoors to finish cooking on the grill, make sure the food goes directly from the oven to the hot grill. Don't let the food stand partially cooked for any period of time.
• Store leftovers in separate containers and refrigerate.
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services www.florida-agriculture.com
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