Summer heat and parties don’t always mix well. The combination can be a recipe for foodborne illness.
Earlier this spring, the Centers for Disease Control reported a 43% increase in Vibrio cases during 2012, and a 14% increase in Campylobacter.
The former often stems from eating raw oysters, the latter, from undercooked poultry and produce.
Cases involving other common food contaminants, such as Listeria and Salmonella, saw no change — which the CDC reported showed a need for improved prevention.
The USDA says food poisoning is more prevalent in the summer.
Heat allows bacteria opportunity to thrive, and with parties and picnics aplenty, it’s all to easy for poor prep habits (like not washing hands, or using the same cutting board for meat and veggies) to cross-contaminate food in a way that will get all your guests sick.
Take these 11 food-safety precautions for safer summer celebrations:
Cook food thoroughly
Cooking food to a safe internal temperature is the best way to eliminate bacteria. That’s up to 165 degrees for most poultry; 145 degrees for fish: Food Safety.gov maintains a list by food type.
“Use a food thermometer rather than relying solely on your senses to assure meat, poultry or fish is prepared to a safe temp,” says culinary nutritionist Jackie Newgent, author of “1,000 Low-Calorie Recipes.”
Food safety group NSF International suggests keeping fresh meat, which is more likely to be contaminated, away from other groceries. Bag raw meat packages separately so juices don’t drip onto other foods.
“Proper hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent illness,” says Ron Simon a partner at Simon & Luke, a law firm that specializes in food poisoning cases.
Before you start to cook, wash hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm water. Repeat each time you switch between handling raw and ready-to-eat foods.
“If you are barbecuing away from home, such as in a park or at the beach, bring antibacterial soap with you in case the public restrooms are out,” he says.
Double up on utensils.
“Have at least two sets of tongs and other utensils, one to prepare food and the other to serve it,” says Simon.
That keeps safely cooked from being re-contaminated.
Shop the perimeter last
Get your dry goods first, and then walk the store perimeter for produce, meat and dairy, advises the USDA.
That way, foods in need of refrigeration will be exposed to the heat for less time. Drive straight home.
Relocate the cooler
Keep it in the air-conditioned car with you and your passengers, not in the hotter trunk, reports FightBac.org.
Pack the cooler with plenty of ice, too.
Covering food prevents flies from landing on it and transmitting bacteria.
“Flies are one of the main channels of transmission for Salmonella,” Simon says.
Monitor the buffet
According to FightBac.org, perishable foods shouldn’t be left out for more than to hours.
If it’s hotter than 90 degrees out, they shouldn’t be out for more than an hour.
Serve kids well-done meat
“E Coli is most dangerous in children, so no rare or medium rare burgers for the little ones,” Simon says.
Defrost in the fridge
Letting food defrost on the counter exposes the surface to room temperature air for longer than is safe, according to FoodSafety.gov.
If you’re under time pressure, put the food under constant cold running water, in a container big enough to let the water flow around the food.
“It’s only okay to reuse a marinade for meat, poultry, or fish when it’s boiled to destroy harmful bacteria,” says Newgent.
Better yet, set some sauce aside at the outset, instead of using it all for marinating.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.