Why Foodborne Illness Spikes in Summer—and What You Can Do About It

Because bacteria multiply faster in the heat and because food handling gets complicated, food poisoning is more common during the summer. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your summer BBQ, but you need to continue to follow food safety practices especially when you take your culinary skills outdoors. Here’s what you need to know to make sure you can keep associating summer with good times and great food.


Food Safety Practices in the Home

Be mindful of basic hygiene and household sanitation. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds in reasonably hot, soapy water. Keep countertops clean. Wash towels and rags on a regular basis as needed.

We care about the environment, too, but consider turning your refrigerator up a notch during the summer. You don’t need to crank the appliance up until you end up freezing liquids, perishable foods will last longer in colder temperatures as will leftovers. Leftover food should normally be refrigerated within two hours of cooking, but in temperatures over 90 degrees, you should chill leftover food within an hour.

Don’t forget the fundamentals of refrigerator organization and food storage compartments. Separate raw meat from other foods by placing them in the lowest possible storage compartment. Avoid placing foods that are prone to spoiling on the door where the average temperature is slightly warmer.

Cutting boards are another big part of food preparation safety. In addition to thorough cleaning and sufficient drying time between uses, you should maintain separate boards for vegetables and meats. You should also be prepared to discard and replace any cutting boards that have become too old to be sanitary.

Finally, don’t get careless with the golden rule. Be sure to cook your food to a safe internal temperature:

  • Poultry: 165°F/74°C
  • Ground meats: 160°F/71°C
  • Beef, pork, lamb and veal: 145°F/63°C


Summer Picnics, BBQ, and Food Poisoning Prevention

It’s one thing to keep perishable foods at home in the refrigerator, but it can get tricky to keep foods out of the Danger Zone, especially if you’re traveling some distance or waiting a good amount of time before cooking the food. Make sure you have a cooler, ice, or other portable cold storage solution that can accommodate your group and picnic plans. The chance of foodborne illness can be eliminated almost entirely by avoiding raw meats and avoiding the danger zone of temperatures.

Next, you need to keep your meats and vegetables separate just like at home. One of the most common ways of contracting foodborne illness is raw meat that contaminates vegetables which then need to be cooked to a higher temperature than the meat. Also, don’t try to get too cute with your smoked meats and cooking temperatures, especially if you have a specific time you’re trying to eat. Keep your smoker temperature between 225-300 degrees F. If you’re worried about drying out your brisket, we recommend the Texas crutch method.

Finally, you need to bring adequate cleaning solutions, especially hand sanitizer which you should use both before and after cooking the meals. In fact, if you’re sloppy or clumsy during the meal, you may need to use the hand sanitizer during the cooking as well. You should also use clean surfaces from which to prepare and eat your picnic. Follow these guidelines and you should be able to enjoy your summer picnic and BBQ without getting food poisoning.


Food Poisoning, Company Events, and Occupational Medicine

No matter how diligent the vetting process when choosing a caterer, your company still needs to have a plan in place to respond to food poisoning, especially when serving food outdoors during summer events. Hopefully, this year is an exception, but it usually happens at least a few times a year across the Denver metro area. Last year, for example, eighty people contracted a foodborne illness at the Rifle Rodeo.

Rocky Mountain Urgent Care can provide organizational support for your employees’ health including workplace events and follow-up care. This includes informational resources about how to prevent food poisoning, as well as acute care and follow-up services for employees and group members in a worst-case scenario. It also includes resources to help prevent and reduce the effects of heat-related illness, as well as other seasonal and year-round health hazards.

Distribute a Food Safety Quiz

It’s not easy to get people to pay attention to food poisoning prevention tips—nor is it healthy to obsess about every single germ you might come into contact with. Looking for a way to introduce food safety tips to your employees or group members in a way that isn’t super annoying? We recommend this short and sweet food safety quiz. It offers practical wisdom for situations that people in Denver are likely to come across this summer.


Get Help for Foodbourne-Illness

If you get really sick in the evening from a contaminated lunch or afternoon BBQ, our Aurora walk-in clinic can see you and provide immediate relief up until 9pm every day of the week. If you soldier through the night but are still violently ill the following morning, you can visit any our urgent care locations throughout the greater Denver area.


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