Melissa Smith, RN, BSN Director of Home Health/Public Safety

July is National Picnic Month and it makes perfect sense to celebrate with all of our favorite foods shared with family and friends. But warm summer temperatures increase issues with food borne germs and it’s this time of year that incidences of food poisoning peak.

Melissa Smith, RN, BSN, Director of Home Health/Public Health at Virginia Gay Hospital, shares some tips for preparing and serving food to help you avoid being one of the 48 million Americans who gets food poisoning each year.

Keep Foods Cool

Keep in mind that food poisoning increases this time of year because bacteria will grow faster in warmer temperatures. Eating perishable items that have been left in the “danger zone” (between 40ºF to 140ºF for too long can make you ill. That means you want to keep uncooked meat, poultry and seafood chilled (in the fridge or cooler, below 40ºF) until you ready to place it on the grill. And get leftovers put in the freezer or fridge within two hours of cooking (make that one hour if the outdoor temperature is 90º or more).

Cook Meat Thoroughly

A safe internal temperature is needed to destroy harmful bacteria in cooked foods. It’s important to never partially grill meat and then finish cooking it later. Don’t forget to use a thermometer to check meat temperatures (145ºF for beef, pork, fish; 160ºF for hamburgers and ground meat; 165ºF for chicken or turkey). If you plan on smoking meat, you’ll need to keep the smoker’s inside temp at a toasty 225ºF to 300ºF.

Clean Hands and Produce

Wash all your fresh veggies and lettuce. Wash your hands before working with any food and especially after touching raw meat, poultry or seafood. It is okay to use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if there isn’t any soap of water.

Separate Raw from Cooked

You can avoid having bacteria contamination from raw meat or seafood by throwing away or thoroughly cooking marinades and sauces that have touched them. And, remember to put cooked meat on a clean plate. You also want to keep raw meat, poultry and seafood away from the other cooked and ready-to-eat foods and drinks on your menu.

Use this “Get Ready to Grill Safely” infographic provided by the Center for Disease Control as a handy reference.

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