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Food Safety Tips for the Warm Weather

Experts explain how to avoid getting sick when preparing food in the spring and summer.

Risky Take-Home Food

Food safety experts are keeping an eye on some worrying trends in food consumption. One is the growing preference for unprocessed "natural" foods available at farmers' markets. While many of these foods may be very healthy, unpasteurized dairy products and juices are more likely to carry a variety of nasty bacteria, experts say. "You can have fresh and locally-produced food that is also safe," Scallan says, "and safe food means pasteurized milk and juices."

Another trend: Buying prepared food from supermarkets and then bringing it home for the family. It's dangerous to leave perishable food at room temperature for more than two hours, notes Shelly Feist of the nonprofit Partnership for Food Safety Education. That window shortens considerably when temperatures are higher -- such as when a prepared meal is placed in a hot car. So be sure to eat prepared food soon after purchasing it, Feist says.

Food Safety in the Outdoors

The warm weather that makes springtime so inviting also creates an ideal breeding environment for bacteria and other pathogens found in food. Here's some advice from The Partnership for Food Safety Education on how to apply food-safety tips to the out-of-doors:

  • Clean. Wash your hands -- as well as utensils, cutting boards, and countertops -- in hot soapy water before and after preparing each food item. Also wash produce, which can carry harmful bacteria. As easy as these directives can be to ignore while in the kitchen, it's even easier when you're outside and playing with the dog, with the Frisbee, or with your baby niece, Feist notes. Don't drop your guard!

  • Separate. Sure, it's tempting to pour that sauce you used to marinate raw burgers or chicken wings onto the cooked food. It's also tempting to place the cooked grub back onto the plate that held your raw meat. Don't give in! Always keep raw meat and its juices separate from cooked food. If you want to reuse that sauce, then boil it first.

  • Cook. It's the best way to kill bad bugs. When grilling, preheat the coals on your grill for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the coals are lightly coated with ash. Use a meat thermometer to ensure that hamburgers and red meats are cooked to 160 degrees and ground poultry to 165 degrees. Poultry breast should be cooked to 170 degrees; dark meat (wings and thighs) should be cooked to 180 degrees. Poultry juices should run clear. Fish should be opaque and flaky.

  • Chill. No, this doesn't refer to what you do after breaking open a Bud at the barbecue. Bacteria grow quickly at room temperature and even faster under the hot sun. So refrigerate meat while it marinates, and keep that potato salad in a cooler that's well-packed with ice or freezer packs.

More tips are available at the Partnership's web site, www.fightbac.org.

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