Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), reminded Californians today about the importance of safe food handling to prevent foodborne illness while enjoying picnics, barbecues and other outdoor activities during the Labor Day holiday.
“Protect yourself, your family and friends from foodborne illness while celebrating Labor Day at picnics and barbecues by following simple food safety tips for transporting your food to the picnic site and preparing and serving it safely once you arrive,” Horton said. “It is also important to clean your hands before you set up your picnic and make sure surfaces are clean.”
Salmonella, E. coli and Campylobacter are among the bacteria most commonly recognized for causing an estimated 76 million cases of foodborne disease in the United States each year. Most of these cases are mild and cause symptoms for only a day or two, but some cases are more serious.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths annually are related to foodborne diseases.
The following are steps that can prevent foodborne illnesses when eating outdoors:
• Keep cold food cold: Place cold food in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. Cold food should be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent bacterial growth. Meat, poultry and seafood may be packed while still frozen so they stay colder longer. Cold, perishable food should be kept in the cooler until serving time. Once the food has been served, it should not sit out for longer than one to two hours if the outdoor temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If it does – discard it.
• Don’t cross-contaminate: Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood securely wrapped to keep their juices from contaminating prepared/cooked foods or raw fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw.
• Clean your produce: Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water before packing them in the cooler, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Rub firm-skinned fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water. Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth towel or paper towel. Packaged fruits and vegetables that are labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed” or “triple washed” need not be washed.
• Organize cooler contents: Consider packing beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another so the perishable foods won’t be exposed to warm outdoor air temperatures as picnickers open and reopen the beverage cooler.
• Cook food thoroughly: When it’s time to cook the food, have your food thermometer ready. Always use it to be sure your food is cooked thoroughly.
For more information on handling food safely while eating outdoors, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Web site at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fssummer.html#s1. Consumers can also access the national Partnership for Food Safety Education's "Fight BAC" (bacteria) Web page at http://www.fightbac.org.