Summer Picnic Hazards

Summer is here and most of us take advantage of the warm weather to hold barbecues and picnics. Most common food-related illnesses are caused by improper storage or handling of food. Depending on the kind of bacteria causing the problem, symptoms of the most common kinds of food poisoning may include one or more of the following: nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and fever. These symptoms usually develop 1–12 hours after eating the contaminated food. However, the time it takes for some bacteria to grow to dangerous levels can be as long as 40 hours.

Here are some tips to prepare, cook and properly store foods and keep harmful bacteria from making you and your family sick. Taking these tips seriously will allow you and your family to enjoy safely the summer.

Storing Food
"Keep it Safe, refrigerate"; To keep growth of bacteria down, the refrigerator should run at 40°F, the freezer at 0°F. (If you don't have a thermometer, keep your refrigerator as cold as possible without freezing your milk or lettuce.)

Freeze fresh meat, poultry or fish immediately, if you can't use it within a few days. Place packages of raw meat, poultry or fish on a plate before refrigerating so their juices won't drip on other food. Raw juices often contain harmful bacteria.

Wash hands in hot soapy water before preparing your food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets. People with open cuts, sores, boils, vomiting or diarrhea should not handle food. Thaw food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Bacteria can grow in the outer layers of the food before the inside thaws. Always marinate food in the refrigerator.

Wash cutting boards and utensils in hot soapy water after use. Use plastic cutting boards rather than wooden ones where bacteria can hide in grooves.

Cook at recommended temperatures to kill bacteria: poultry 165°F; beef 140°F; pork 150°F. "If it's in a shell, cook it well." Don't eat raw or partially cooked eggs or shellfish. Cook foods as close to serving time as possible to limit bacterial growth.

Storing Leftovers
"When in doubt, throw it out." Refrigerate food within two hours after cooking, don't let it sit out on the table. Store foods in tightly sealed containers, but don't pack the refrigerator so tight with food that air cannot circulate around food properly.

Picnic Packing Tips
Pack hot foods in insulated containers so they stay hot. Use well-insulated coolers that allow space for ice packs. Pack refrigerated foods just before leaving home. If grilling, pack additional clean plates to avoid cross contamination of raw and cooked foods. Never leave a cooler in the trunk or car; place in a shaded area and cover with a blanket.

If you suspect your child has been poisoned, call the Central Texas Poison Center immediately at 800-222-1222.

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