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Summertime increases risk of foodborne illness

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Summertime means spending more time outdoors, attending parties, picnics and cookouts. But this time of year also increases the risk of foodborne illnesses, such as food poisoning and dangerous bacterial infections. Local experts share tips on how to properly prepare meat for the grill, serve and store side dishes and how to avoid getting sick.

Lynn Large, director of food service at the Marshalltown School District, said always make sure cold foods stay cold and hot foods stay hot.

“Make a meat thermometer your friend,” Large said. “People will cut into meat and see if it’s done, or feel firmness to determine doneness, but that is not always the best way to do it. You’ll get an accurate measure of temperature if you use a meat thermometer, and make sure to measure the temperature in the thickest part of the meat.”

When you don’t have access to a fridge or oven, limit the amount of time the food remains out. Utilize coolers and insulated bags. Potato salad shouldn’t be allowed to reach temperatures exceeding 75 degrees.

While hand sanitizer is convenient, Large said it is best to wash hands with soap and water. Hand sanitizers are not effective protection against norovirus, which is the leading cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S.

Grisel Chavez, who serves as family nutrition program assistant for ISU Extension and Outreach for Marshall County, said it’s also important to make sure your refrigerator is running properly, especially this time of year.

“Keep it set between 32 and 40 degrees to keep the food from freezing or going bad,” Chavez said.

If you’re planning a picnic or cookout, keep these food safety tips, provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in mind:

• When shopping, pick up meat, poultry and seafood last, right before checkout.

• Keep meat, poultry and seafood refrigerated until ready to grill. When transporting, keep below 40 degrees in an insulated cooler.

• Throw out marinades and sauces that have touched raw meat juices, which can spread germs to cooked foods.

• When smoking, keep temperatures inside the smoker at 225 degrees to 300 degrees to keep meat a safe temperature while it cooks. 145 degrees – whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal (stand-time of 3 minutes at this temperature); 145 degrees – fish; 160 degrees – hamburgers and other ground beef; 165 degrees – all poultry and pre-cooked meats, like hot dogs.

• After grilling: 140 degrees or warmer – until it’s served.

• Leftovers should be reheated to at least 165 degrees before serving.

• Eating soft cheeses (especially those that are not pasteurized) can put you at risk of Listeria.

When putting away leftovers, divide them into small portions, covered in shallow containers. If perishable foods have been left at room temperature for two hours or more, throw them away. Food sitting out at temperatures hotter than 90 degrees for more than an hour need to be thrown away.

People at higher risk of food poisoning are those age 65 and older, children younger than age 5, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women.

“I think people sometimes forget that fruits and vegetables are common carriers of foodborne illness, too. People associate it with mayonnaise, eggs and meat, but cut, fresh melon, tomatoes and leafy greens are also foods that are well known to have contamination in them, so it’s really important to keep those foods cold as well,” Large said.

Chavez added that it’s always important to wash fruits and veggies in cold water before eating.

“Also wash your hands before and after washing them to avoid spreading bacteria,” she said.

According to the CDC, pregnant women are 10 times more likely to develop a Listeria (serious bacterial) infection, with pregnant Hispanic women 24 times more likely than other people to get a Listeria infection. This illness can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or death of a newborn. The CDC estimates Listeria is the third leading cause of death from food poisoning in the United States. About 1,600 people get sick from Listeria each year, and about 260 die from it. The CDC said eating soft cheeses (especially those that are not pasteurized) can put you at risk. These include: queso fresco, queso blanco, queso blando, queso cotija, queso panela, queso ranchero and cuajada en terrón.

When serving desserts in an outdoor setting, consider those that have been pre-baked, such as pies, cookies, cakes and brownies, rather than ones with fresh fruit or cream-based filling or icing. Avoid serving dairy products, which can harbor bacteria when not kept between the 32-40 degrees point.

“After you’ve grilled your meat, maybe keep the grill warm and go back to it with marshmallows to make s’mores,” Large said.

For more safety tips, visit www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/bbq-iq.html

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at

641-753-6611 or

sjordan@timesrepublican.com