Grilling can be one of summer's great joys. Getting friends and family together for an outdoor feast is the perfect way to take advantage of the nice weather and eat a wide variety of delicious foods. Unfortunately, it can turn unpleasant if you don't follow food safety guidelines and inadvertently put yourself — and your guests — at risk of food poisoning.
Food poisoning, also called foodborne illness, is caused by eating food that has been contaminated with viruses, bacteria, or parasites. Its symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. While the sickness typically resolves on its own within 24 hours, hospitalization may be needed in severe cases, particularly if there's significant dehydration.
While it's possible to get food poisoning year-round, foodborne illness peaks in the summer. Why? Because bacteria can multiply faster in warmer temperatures, and food preparation is more difficult to control outdoors. Cooking indoors means refrigeration, running water, and more readily available clean surfaces. That's why it's especially important to be careful with food at barbecues and cookouts.
EHE’s Dr. Seema Sarin notes that illness-causing germs can come into contact with food in various ways. She stresses that “tips for safe food handling are important” to avoid food contamination. Here’s what Dr. Sarin recommends for food prep and storage to prevent food poisoning:
In addition to food prep and storage habits, cooking foods properly is vital to your health. Dr. Sarin notes that when “looking at different types of food, there are safe temperatures for different types.” It's important to know these differences to ensure food safety when cooking.
When bringing prepared foods to outdoor events, make sure to keep hot foods at 140 degrees Fahrenheit and cold foods chilled. Dr. Sarin recommends that foods never be kept at room temperature for longer than two hours, or one hour if the room temperature is hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Use coolers with ice packs to transport perishable foods from home.
Dr. Sarin also suggests that if you do get food poisoning to stay hydrated with plenty of water. You may also benefit from eating smaller, more frequent meals with low fat content for easier digestion and getting plenty of rest. Make sure to see your doctor if you have abdominal pain, can’t drink, see blood in your vomit or bowel movements, or have a fever exceeding 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Severe symptoms accompanied by dehydration can be especially dangerous for young children and older adults, so check in with your health care provider if you have concerns.
For a healthy alternative to summer barbecue favorites, check out our recipe for salmon burgers!