Tips offered for summer food safety, by George Sedlacek

With summertime quickly approaching and backyard barbeques and family picnics on the horizon, the Marquette County Health Department reminds the public about proper food handling and that food safety is not an option, but an obligation. Consumers need to know simple steps they can take to prevent foodborne illness.
“As the temperature rises, so does the risk of foodborne illness. Hot, humid weather creates the perfect conditions for the rapid growth of bacteria,” said Fred Benzie, director of environmental health. “Summer also means more people are cooking outside at picnics, barbeques and camping trips, without easy access to refrigeration and washing facilities to keep food safe.”
Benzie said foodborne illnesses not only make people very ill, but have significant costs to the economy. The USDA has estimated that medical costs and losses in productivity due to five bacterial foodborne illnesses (such as E.coli, salmonella and campylobacter) is nearly $7 billion a year.
To minimize the risks of foodborne illness, follow these four easy steps when handling and preparing food:
• Step One: Clean—Wash hands and surfaces often to avoid the spread of bacteria—Wash your hands with hot, soapy water for at least twenty seconds before handling food, and after handling raw meats or poultry, using the bathroom, touching pets or changing diapers. Always wash raw fruits and vegetables in clean water, as you cannot tell whether foods carry surface bacteria by the way they look, smell or taste.
• Step Two: Separate—Keep raw meats and poultry separate from cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination—When you pack a cooler for an outing, wrap uncooked meats and poultry securely and put them on the bottom to prevent raw juices from dripping onto other foods. Wash all plates, utensils and cutting boards that touched or held raw meat or poultry before using them for cooked foods.
• Step Three: Cook—Make sure you kill harmful bacteria by properly cooking food—Traditional visual cues like color are not a guarantee that food is safe. Don’t guess. Take a digital instant-read food thermometer along to check when meat and poultry are safe to eat. Cooked foods are safe to eat when internal temperatures are 71 degrees C (160 degrees F) for ground meat; 74 degrees C (165 degrees F) for leftover food and boned and deboned poultry parts; and 85 degrees C (185 degrees F) for whole poultry
• Step Four: Chill—Keep cold food cold—Perishable foods that normally are in the refrigerator, such as luncheon meats, cooked meat, chicken and potato or pasta salads, must be kept in an insulated cooler with freezer packs or blocks of ice to keep the temperature at or near 4 degrees C (40 degrees F). Put leftovers back in the cooler as soon as you are finished eating. The simple rule is: When in doubt, throw it out.
Groups and organizations planning public food events must get a temporary food license from the health department. Benzie said while all area restaurants are inspected every year for safe food preparation, without special precautions community events can turn summer fun into a severe food disease outbreak.
Every licensed event is visited by an environmental sanitarian who provides education and tips on how to keep events safe from food-borne illnesses.
For details, call 475-4195 or visit www.mqthealth.org
—George Sedlacek

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