Cookout Caution: Keeping Food Safety in Focus this Summer

July 1, 2019

Summer offers plentiful opportunities to gather outdoors with family and friends.  Whether it's the Fourth of July, Labor Day, an afternoon on the lake, or one last hurrah before school days beckon again, seasonal celebrations are popular when the sun is out and the temperatures are warm.  Most of these gatherings have one particular ingredient in common:  food.  Summer favorites include grilled burgers and hot dogs, barbecued chicken, homemade potato salad and coleslaw, and overflowing veggie and fruit trays.  While enjoying summer favorites, there's another ingredient that should be a part of every party - food safety.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 million Americans suffer from a food-borne illness each year.  That's one in six people.  Of those 48 million, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.  Symptoms of food poisoning can vary both in severity and type, but the most common are upset stomach, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.  While anyone can be affected, adults 65 and older, children younger than five, and people with compromised immune systems are even more at risk.  Therefore, it's incredibly important to stay vigilant about keeping food safe for consumption - both at seasonal celebrations and at home year-round.  Fortunately, there are some simple steps that can be taken to ensure food is kept safe according to Ali Burtraw, dietician on staff at Colorado Plains Medical Center.

1.  Clean your fruits and veggies and know their origin.  Give all produce a good washing.  Washing decreases the risk of contamination in fruits and vegetables.  Since washing cannot completely eliminate risk, it's also helpful to know whether or not foods were grown and processed in sanitary conditions.  "Take the extra step to learn more about the brands you buy through online reseach.  Also, support your local farmers market to become better acquainted with your local food sources," encourages Burtraw.

2.  Thoroughly cook your meat and eggs.  Raw animal products are most likely to be contaminated.  Unpasteurized milk, raw eggs, raw shellfish, and raw meat can be the most dangerous and high risk.  Ensuring that eggs have a firm yolk and cooking meat to the proper internal temperature helps kill parasites, bacteria, and viruses.  Use a food thermometer to confirm cooked temperature.  The CDC recommends internal temperature minimums for meat as follows:

  • 145 degrees F for whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb (and allow meat to rest for three minutes before carving or eating), and for fresh ham (raw) and fin fish (or cook until fish flesh is opaque)
  • 160 degrees F for ground meats like beef and pork
  • 165 degrees F for all poultry (including ground chicken and turkey), and leftovers and casseroles

3.  Avoid cross-contamination.  Keep raw meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs separate from produce and other ready-to-eat foods, and use separate cutting boards and plates for those items.

4.  Cool and store prepared food properly.  Don't prepare foods more than one day in advance unless the items will be placed in the freezer.  Cooking foods in advance opens the door wider for bacteria to grow.  The majority of reported cases of food-borne illnesses can be traced back to improper cooling.  Cooked foods should be rapidly cooled in shallow pans instead of just being left to cool on the counter.  Spread food out in as many pans as needed so that prepared items are no more than two inches deep for cooling.  Frozen foods should be thawed safely in the refrigerator, cold water, or the microwave, and never on the countertop.  Perishable food should never be left out for more than two hours (or one hour if outside termperatures are above 90 degrees F). Food that sits at room temperature can quickly develop bacteria.  Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible.  "A good rule of thumb is, when in doubt, throw it out," notes Burtraw.

5.  Keep it covered.  Many insects can carry harmful bacteria and viruses, so it's important to keep foods covered to protect against potential contamination from pests - especially when celebrating outdoors.

6.  Keep it clean.  A clean kitchen and food preparation area can help ensure safe food consumption.  Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before, during, after food preparation, and before consumption.  Wash all cutting boards, utensils, bowls, pans, and tools with hot, soapy water after each use.

"If you do find yourself suffering from a food-borne illness and have symptoms that are severe, including blood in stools, a high fever of 102 degrees F, frequent vomiting, dehyration, or diarrhea that continues for more than three days, see your provider.  If you need a provider, visit the Find a Doctor/Provider tab on this website to get connected with the right care.  A provider is also available at our hospital's Express Care Clinic, Monday - Friday, from 12:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.", states Burtraw.

By keeping these tips top-of-mind, one can help ensure a safe and fun feast for family and friends at all celebrations both during summer and the season beyond.

For more information on food safety, visit