Summer cookouts have always been a time-honored family tradition for many generations. However, there is one thing no one wants to share with his family or friends, and that is a food-borne illness.
Each year, roughly one in six people in this country becomes ill from eating some form of contaminated food at cookouts or picnics. Food-borne illnesses do increase during the summer months. Bacteria of all types are present in the environment (soil, air, water, in the bodies of all animals and people) at all times. Microorganisms grow faster in hot and humid climates. Most food-borne bacteria grow the fastest at temperatures of 90 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Harmful food-borne bacteria need moisture to grow. The hot temperatures of summer, along with humidity and raw meat juices, provide an excellent environment for harmful bacteria to multiply on food in large numbers. When this happens, someone eating the contaminated food often gets sick. Small children and older adults in poor health are extremely vulnerable to this.
With hamburgers, coleslaw, deviled eggs, and potato salad are on the menu, along with the warm outdoor temperatures, it is difficult to resist a backyard cookout, picnic, or anything similar. The last thing a host or hostess will want to know is that one or some of the guests from the outdoor party is in the hospital a few hours later as a result of food poisoning. To prevent this from happening, it is important to follow some basic rules in proper food handling.
Always wash your hands with plenty of soap and hot water before and after handling food. Keep serving dishes and cooking utensils clean. Serve food on clean plates, not those that have been in contact with raw meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat juices may cause cross-contaminated food to be served.
When transporting meats and poultry to a picnic site, always make sure they are cooked completely. I would never carry partially cooked meats in a cooler because they do not reach the temperature necessary to kill bacteria. The bacteria in partially cooked meat will continue to grow and spread to other food in the cooler.
When eating away from home, try to find out if there is a source of safe drinking water. If not, bring along some bottled water. Moist towelettes and paper towels are always good to have at any picnic.
Most food safety experts agree that food is safe when it cooked for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Poultry should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees F. and measured with a simple food thermometer. Pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees F. When preparing pork in any form (bacon, chops, sausage, etc.) for a picnic, always keep in mind that undercooked pork is dangerous. Beef, lamb, and veal steaks should be cooked to at least 150 degrees F.
It is also important to keep cold food cold. Such perishable foods like coleslaw, deviled eggs, and potato salad should be kept in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice. One should also consider packing canned beverages in one cooler and perishable food in another because the beverage cooler will be opened frequently. Another nice trick is to freeze lemonade, ice tea, or water in gallon jugs to help keep the food cold and then to have at the picnic.
To make a long story short, keep the hot food hot, the cold food cold and keep your darned hands clean. Most people in good health who happen to ingest contaminated food seldom stay ill for very long. Individuals in good health will have a healthy immune system that protects them not only from harmful bacteria on food, but from the other harmful organisms in the environment.
I think that I was only food poisoned one time. As strange as it may seem, it was during the Christmas season of 1965. My father and I ingested some contaminated beef steak. Believe me, I do not want to ever have that experience again. Dad and I were sick to our stomachs and up all night going to the bathroom. I came out of it in about three days, but I think that it took dad a week to fully recover.