It's the season for frolicking in the sun during family barbecues and for
romantic picnics. At some point this summer, most of us will find ourselves
flipping burgers on the grill or whipping out our Tupperware to transport a bin
of potato salad. But unfortunately, if you aren't careful with foods during
cookouts, natural bacteria can grow and multiply, putting you at risk for
food-borne illnesses with scary names like salmonella and staphylococcus.
It's no picnic when a food-related illness strikes, often resulting in
diarrhea, vomiting, and in some cases severe dehydration. Unfortunately, most
of us will experience food poisoning at some point in our lives. According to
the CDC, there are 76 million cases of food-borne illness each year in the
U.S., which includes 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.
With evidence that food-borne illnesses may be more common during warm
weather, people need to take extra precautions during the summer months, says
Amy DuBois, MD, MPH, FACS, from the CDC in Atlanta.
An Ounce of Prevention
Given that food poisoning is often caused by our own safety mistakes,
preventing food-borne illnesses while enjoying meals outdoors is often in your
With the help of two food safety experts who spoke to WebMD -- DuBois, and
Peter J. Slade, PhD, director of the National Center for Food Safety and
Technology in Summit-Argo, Ill. -- we've come up with a list of rules so you
can have your picnic and safely eat it, too.
1) Keep your hands clean.
"Hand washing really covers a multitude of sins," DuBois tells
WebMD. In fact, dirty hands are one of the most common ways foods get
contaminated. "You don't necessarily have control over where your food came
from, but you can always make sure that you wash your hands." This includes
washing your hands after changing diapers or going to the bathroom and before
you eat or handle foods.
When you are outside without a water source, DuBois recommends using
antibacterial hand wipes and gels, which are very effective when used
correctly. Use soap and water to wash your hands, however, before and after
handling raw meat or poultry.
2) Wash cooking equipment, dishes, and utensils between uses.
A 1998 consumer food survey, conducted by the FDA and the Department of
Agriculture (USDA), found that 21% of cooks do not wash their cutting boards
after cutting raw meat, a big mistake considering that cross-contamination is
often to blame for food poisoning.
You should never let raw meat or poultry come in contact with other foods --
period. Avoid uncooked marinated food and raw meat, fish,
or eggs, which may contain bacteria; cook all such food thoroughly. Keep
utensils, cutting boards, dishes, surfaces, and even sponges clean, especially
after contact with raw meat or poultry.