Summer is in full swing and Americans are outside and on the move. To keep food poisoning, heat exhaustion and other summer woes from spoiling the fun, follow some basic safety tips to avoid illness and injury that could even become life-threatening.
"One out of every six Americans contracts a food borne illness each year," says Melissa Landry, director of Food and Nutritional Services at Lane Regional Medical Center. "Most cases are mild, with symptoms lasting a day or two. However, some 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die annually from consuming contaminated food or beverages. Very young children, people with compromised immune systems and those older than 50 are most at risk."
Barbeques and picnics are an open invitation for uninvited visitors, such as bacteria and other pathogens that can grow rapidly and cause sickness. The non-profit Partnership for Food Safety Education offers these tips to avoid those nasty bugs:
- After handling raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water
- Refrigerate food while it is marinating
- Do not use uncooked marinade as a sauce for cooked food
- Use a food thermometer to ensure grilled meat, fish and chicken are cooked to a safe internal temperature
- Do not serve cooked food on the same plate used for uncooked food
It's important to make sure food that's been left out of refrigeration too long is not eaten. The guidelines for keeping eggs, salads, meats and other perishable food safe are simple - it's all about time and temperature. Discard any food that has been left out more than two hours if the temperature has been less than 90 degrees, and pitch items left out after just one hour if the temperature has climbed above 90 degrees during that time.
When transporting perishable food to your favorite summer spot, stow it out of the sun in coolers packed with ice or frozen gel packs. Pack drinks or snacks that you want to get to frequently in a separate cooler to avoid exposing the other food to warm outside air when the lid is lifted. Meat, fish and poultry can be packed frozen. It will thaw on the road and stay colder longer. Remember that a full cooler keeps food safer than one that is partially filled. Use ice or gel packs to take up any open space.
To avoid contamination in the kitchen, keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from other foods, and always wash cutting boards, plates, pans and utensils with soap before using for cooked foods.
When we're not packing food into the cooler for a picnic, we're firing up the grill in the backyard. A national poll by the Hearth, Patio & Barbeque Association found that 70 percent of Americans prefer grilling out at home as opposed to eating out because it saves money and is more relaxing. Yet preparing this much-loved cuisine can be risky business. Some 18,000 people went to emergency rooms in 2011 as the result of grilling accidents, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. At least six people died from their injuries. Many grillers suffered from severe burns after squirting too much or the wrong type of fuel to start their fires. To avoid accidents, make sure the grill is cleaned of grease and in good working order. Check the hose and tank on gas grills to ensure they are in good shape and are properly attached to prevent any leakage.
Heat and humidity also are unavoidable elements that impact our outdoor summer time. Hydration is key when the temperature is soaring. When temperatures are high, the American Red Cross advises people to drink fluids periodically regardless of thirst, wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothes and take frequent breaks by stepping inside every so often. Never leave children or pets in a closed hot car ? they can die. Check in on people who are alone and use a buddy system when exercising or working outside to ensure the heat doesn't deal an unnoticed, fatal blow. Be alert for these signs of heat stress:
- Heat cramps signaled by muscle pain or spasms, usually in the legs or abdomen, that indicate the body is struggling from loss of fluids and electrolytes
- Heat exhaustion signaled by cool, moist, pale or flushed skin, heavy sweating, headache, nausea, dizziness, weakness or extreme fatigue
- Heat stroke signaled by hot, red skin that may be dry or moist, a change in consciousness, vomiting and high body temperature
Heat stroke can be life-threatening. Call for emergency assistance immediately. Move the person to a cooler place and apply cloth-wrapped ice, cold packs or wet towels to the wrists, ankles, groin, neck and armpits. As with heat exhaustion, remove or loosen tight clothing, lightly fan the person and slowly offer small amounts of water.