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Cook up a safe summer

couple grillingIt’s finally summer. After months of eating in the kitchen, most of us are eager for a change of scenery. But before you head for the beach or the back deck, here are a few things you should know about summer food safety.

Food poisoning can be caused by various bacteria. The most common is salmonella, a type of bacteria found in foods of animal origin, such as meat, poultry, eggs and milk. Symptoms of salmonella infection—diarrhea, chills, fever and headache—usually last three to five days, but sometimes the infection is deadly.

Staphylococcus aureus is another type of bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Usually, it’s spread when someone has an open wound that comes into contact with food he or she is preparing. The bacteria can multiply quickly, especially in foods with mayonnaise or cream bases left at room temperature. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, which last about 12 hours.

An infection caused by clostridium perfringens produces symptoms that include abdominal pain and diarrhea. This type of germ multiplies when cooked meat is left to cool slowly to room temperature over 12 to 14 hours.

Grill guidelines
Follow these tips from the International Food Information Council Foundation to make sure food poisoning doesn’t spoil your summer fun:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after handling raw fish, meat or poultry—or any utensils used to handle those foods.
  • Marinate raw fish, meat or poultry in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
  • Use a glass dish rather than a plastic one for marinating. (Plastic is more likely to retain bacteria.)
  • Don’t precook food too far in advance. Food should be transferred immediately from the microwave or range to the grill. Another option: Cook the food completely ahead of time and use the grill to warm it up when you’re ready to eat.
  • Don’t serve cooked food on a plate used to carry raw meat, poultry or fish to the grill.

Picnic pointers

  • Make sandwiches and salads ahead of time so that they can be well chilled in the refrigerator before you leave.
  • Pack picnic foods in a cooler with plenty of ice or cold packs—enough to keep food at 40°F. Put the cooler in the shade once you arrive.
  • Don’t eat picnic leftovers unless they were kept cold during the picnic and the ride home.

For answers to specific questions, please check out our list of hotlines that you can call.