If there’s anything that ruins summer fun, it’s coming down with a bad case of salmonella, botulism or E. coli because of improper food handling.
The Union County Health Department (UCHD) is gearing up its summer educational program by starting on food safety. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state one out of six people will contract a form of food poisoning every year, and some of those problems could be prevented with the way the food is handled.
“Every time, at this time of year, when we know folks are outside picnicking, barbecuing or grilling out… we’d like to remind everyone how to do that without contracting a foodborne illness,” UCHD public information officer Jennifer Thrush said. “The problem is, we know every year in Union County and across the nation, we get people who get sick from a foodborne illness, so we want every person we can reach to have the basic steps to prevent (it).”
Thrush said around three years ago, in Fairfield County, there was a botulism outbreak at a picnic that was caused by improperly home-canned potatoes used for potato salad. The outbreak led to someone’s death, which further ramped up the UCHD’s promotion of food safety.
Marcia Dreiseidel, UCHD director of environmental health, said there are common things people do wrong when it comes to foodborne illnesses. Some of the common problems she hears about involve improper handwashing techniques, cross-contamination — which is where objects that interacted with raw meat or other contaminated substances are used with other clean and foodsafe objects — and improper temperature control of the food.
She said the department likes to educate people on food safety with the initialism CSCC: clean, separate, cook and chill. With this, she said people are advised to clean off all instruments, utensils and surfaces involved with the raw food — including the cook’s hands — separate them from contaminating other objects, cook them at the right temperature and immediately chilling the food if it’s not going to be served immediately.
“It sounds simple enough, but you’d be surprised by how many people don’t do that,” Dreiseidel said. ““That’s where we’ll see outbreaks, if there’s a large gathering of people.”
She said fruit and other produce isn’t immune to these preparation standards. She said produce can carry foodborne illnesses on their exteriors as well, if not properly washed. She recommends for cleaning produce with hard exteriors to either use a vegetable brush to clear a layer from the surface or by using one’s fingers under lukewarm water to massage it clean.
“If you don’t (clean your produce), whatever is on the outside when you slice it will get into the inside,” she said.
When it comes to storing raw meat to bring to a cookout, she said the order in which food is packed is important. Everything should be packed depending on temperature needed to cook, with the food needing the highest temperature to cook on the bottom.
In an example, she said to pack a cooler with raw ground beef on the bottom, raw steaks in the middle and prepared foods, such as potato salad, on top. That way, heat rises up, keeping the meats cool on the bottom, and making sure blood from those meats does not drip into other foods.
Drinks should always been in their own separate cooler, because people will be in and out of the cooler and compromising the temperature inside.
For storing prepared meat, she said to keep it above 135 degrees Fahrenheit, while keeping raw meat below 41 degrees Fahrenheit. This is to make sure bacteria won’t grow on the meat, as it’ll be refrigerated or too hot for the bacteria to handle.
Finally, Dreiseidel said one of the most popular questions asked involves keeping leftovers. For that, she said it’s “better to be safe than sorry,” and to throw away any leftovers that have been left unrefrigerated or unheated for at least an hour.
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