Tips to prevent food-borne illnesses in the summer

Special to The Dallas Examiner | 7/21/2014, 10:10 a.m.
With summer comes fun in the sun, swimming in the lake, and picnics in the park. But while the kids ...
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Special to The Dallas Examiner

With summer comes fun in the sun, swimming in the lake, and picnics in the park. But while the kids are frolicking on the jungle gym, food-borne bacteria can be wreaking havoc with that special potato salad you made for the family gathering. Dietitians at Parkland Health and Hospital System warn that as food heats up in sweltering summer temperatures, bacteria multiply rapidly.

To protect yourself, your family and friends from food-borne illnesses during the warm weather months, safe food handling when eating outdoors is critical.

“One of the most important things is to keep cold food cold,” said Sharon Cox, a registered dietitian at Parkland. “Cold food should be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below using ice or frozen gel packs to prevent bacteria growth. Try to limit the number of times you open the cooler. The more times you open it, the more heat can get inside and increase the temperature to a dangerous level.”

In addition to keeping a lid on it, Cox recommends packing beverages in one cooler and perishable food in another. That way, as picnickers open and reopen the beverage cooler to replenish their drinks, perishable foods won’t be exposed to warm outdoor air temperatures.

The key, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is to never let your food remain in the “danger zone” between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours, or one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90 degrees.

But while most people know the dangers of consuming food left in the heat, there are times when the meal looks and smells fine. Cox said it’s better to err on the side of caution than risk contracting food poisoning.

“If you aren’t 100 percent sure how long food has been sitting out, especially foods made with mayonnaise or other ingredients that spoil quickly, don’t eat it,” Cox warned. “Why risk ruining a fun day with friends and family by eating food that is not safe?”

Still, if the draw of the potato salad or deviled egg is too much to resist, Cox said to look out for signs of food poisoning including nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, which can start just hours after eating contaminated food. Most often, food poisoning is mild and resolves without treatment, but some cases are severe, requiring hospitalization.

For more information about food-borne illnesses, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at http://www.fda.gov.