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Odle: Memorial Day kicks off summertime BBQs but here are some tips for food safety

photo of Memorial Day
Dr. Leo Odle
By Dr. Leo Odle | Point of View

Memorial Day weekend is a time to remember and honor the men and women who have served our country. It’s also the traditional start of the summer vacation and travel season – a time for family getaways and flavorful barbecues and picnics.

During this time, it’s important to take precautions when it comes to safe food handling, preparation and cooking, to avoid food-borne illnesses like Salmonella and E. coli, which can be serious and, in some cases, life-threatening.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases.

Typical food-poisoning symptoms include vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea and fever, all of which may range from mild to serious and can last from a few hours to several days.

Health care professionals caution that certain people have an increased risk of becoming very sick from foodborne illness including pregnant women, older adults, young children and people with weakened immune systems.

To help you keep your families healthy and protect them from food poisoning, here are some general food and kitchen hygiene tips to help you safely prepare and serve your Memorial Day meal.

Foodborne illnesses tend to increase during the summer months because bacteria multiply faster when it’s warm, so following food safety guidelines is especially critical for raw meats, summer salads, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, which are among the most perishable foods at cookouts.

  • Clean everything: It is important for those preparing and handling food to frequently wash their hands before, during and after they start cooking, and to use fresh, clean plates and utensils for serving cooked food.
  • Do not cross contaminate: Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread germs to ready-to-eat food unless you keep them separate.
  • Cook to the right temperature: The only way to tell if food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature.
  • Refrigerate perishable food within two hours. When food is left unrefrigerated for more than two hours, bacteria grow rapidly. For temperatures over 90F, food should be refrigerated within an hour.

Have fun this Memorial Day but be mindful of food safety to help keep your family healthy.

Editor’s note: Dr. Leo Odle is an internal medicine specialist at Optum – Arizona.

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