The official start of summer is now here, making it the perfect time to give yourself a quick lesson about staying safe and avoiding foodborne illnesses during upcoming cookouts and other outdoor gatherings with food.
Unfortunately, experts say summertime, which started on Friday, June 21, is the most common season for foodborne illnesses. In fact, in the United States, an estimated 48 million illnesses and 3,000 deaths are caused each year from the ingestion of contaminated food.
Identifying risks for foodborne illnesses is also difficult because while some people experience symptoms almost immediately after eating contaminated food, others don’t show symptoms until days or even weeks later. Similarly, different amounts of bacteria affect people in different ways:
“Some people may become ill after ingesting only a few harmful bacteria; others may remain symptom-free after ingesting thousands,” says the United States Department of Agriculture .
Typically, foodborne illnesses result in flu-like symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and/or a fever. This means that the person experiencing the symptoms may not recognize that the illness was caused by harmful bacteria or pathogens in food.
Here’s what you should know about staying safe and avoiding foodborne illnesses this summer:
- Bacteria multiply rapidly between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F. This range is called the “danger zone.” To prevent bacteria growth and contamination, keep cold food cold and hot food hot.
- Store food in the refrigerator (40 degrees F or below) or freezer (0 degrees F or below).
- Cook all raw beef, lamb, pork and veal steaks, chops and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees F and confirm the temperature with a food thermometer.
- Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb and veal to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer.
- Cook all poultry to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F as measured with a food thermometer.
- Maintain hot cooked food at 140 degrees F or above.
- Reheat leftover foods to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.
If you feel as though you may have come into contact with contaminated food, take the following steps immediately:
- Preserve the evidence if possible. Wrap up the contaminated item(s), label them with “danger” and store them in the freezer. Save all packaging materials and make a note of the food type, the date, other identifying marks on the package, the time consumed, and when the onset of symptoms occurred.
- Seek medical treatment if necessary. Those with a compromised immune system may have a higher risk of complications. If symptoms persist, call a doctor.
- Call the local health department if the food in question was served at a large gathering or originated from a restaurant, food service facility or is a commercial product.
- Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) if the food is a USDA-inspected product and you have the packaging.
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