Each year about 1 in 6 Americans get sick from foodborne diseases. The rates of infection increase in summer when bacteria in foods multiply faster in the heat. Foodborne infections, commonly called food poisoning, are caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Harmful toxins and chemicals can also contaminate foods and cause foodborne illness, say the experts at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).
“In addition to the 48 million people sickened each year with foodborne illness in the U.S., 128,000 are hospitalized, and tragically, 3,000 die,” says Dr. Anna Herby, nutrition education program manager for PCRM. “The extreme heat event happening right now in many areas is likely to make worse the surge in cases we typically see during the summer months.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, “Raw foods of animal origin are the most likely to be contaminated, specifically raw or undercooked meat and poultry, raw or lightly cooked eggs, dairy (that includes unpasteurized milk and soft cheeses), and raw shellfish. Fruits and vegetables can also become contaminated through food production or processing, or through cross-contamination with raw meat in kitchens.”
Researchers with the PCRM have reviewed the most recent data on foodborne illness, and found that some foods are more likely to cause illness than others. The organization gives common sense advice about foods to avoid and those to eat instead to help keep you healthy and safe this summer.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, here are some easy things you can do to help keep everyone at your table safe from foodborne illness:
• Wash your hands thoroughly. We’ve become pretty adept at washing our hands during the pandemic. Use the same hygienic technique — soap and water for 20 seconds ─ before cooking or eating. If you are outdoors and there is no bathroom handy, use a water jug, soap, and paper towels.
• Keep raw food separate from cooked food. Don’t use a dish that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood for anything else. Wash it thoroughly with hot, soapy water. Keep all utensils and surfaces clean.
• Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. If you choose to use some of the marinade as a sauce later, keep a portion separate and refrigerated until you are done cooking.
• Cook foods thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to ensure accuracy. Hamburgers should be cooked to 190 degrees Fahrenheit or until no pink is visible, and chicken should be cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If you partially cook food in the microwave to save time grilling, do so immediately before the food goes on the grill.
• Refrigerate or freeze food promptly. Never leave food out of the cooler or off the grill for more than two hours. Do not leave food out for more than one hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
• Keep hot food hot, and cold food cold. Keep hot food at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above by wrapping it well and placing it in an insulated container. If you bring take-out barbecue or fried chicken to a cookout, eat the food with two hours of purchasing. When reheating food, make sure it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold food should be kept at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Place foods like chicken salad and desserts directly on ice or in a shallow container set in a pan filled with ice. Drain off water and replace ice frequently.
• Make healthy swaps. PCRM suggests serving Easy Bean Salad or Hearts of Palm Untuna Salad instead of regular chicken, egg or tuna salads at cookouts to reduce the risk of salmonella poisoning.
“While commonsense measures like proper hand washing and hygiene, staying away from food from unreliable or unsafe sources, and assuring that food is cooked thoroughly are helpful, avoiding the most problematic foods will do more to keep you safe this summer and throughout the year,” says Dr. Herby.
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