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Courtesy of WellMed

Memorial Day weekend is a time to remember and honor the men and women who have served our country. It’s also the traditional start of the summer vacation and travel season – a time for family getaways and flavorful barbecues and picnics.

During this time, it’s important to take precautions when it comes to safe food handling, preparation and cooking, to avoid food-borne illnesses like Salmonella and E. coli, which can be serious and, in some cases, life-threatening (SOURCE: Food Poisoning Symptoms | CDC).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year 48 million (or roughly one out of six Americans) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases (SOURCE: Foodborne Germs and Illnesses | CDC).

Typical food-poisoning symptoms include vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea and fever, all of which may range from mild to serious and can last from a few hours to several days (SOURCE: Food Poisoning Symptoms | CDC) Health care professionals caution that certain people have an increased risk for foodborne illness including pregnant women, older adults, young children and people with weakened immune systems (SOURCE: People With a Higher Risk of Food Poisoning | Food Safety | CDC).

To help keep families healthy and protect them from food poisoning, here are some general food and kitchen hygiene tips to safely prepare and serve those Memorial Day meals (SOURCE: Four Steps to Food Safety | CDC). Foodborne illnesses tend to increase during the summer months because bacteria multiply faster when it’s warm, so following food safety guidelines is especially critical for raw meats, summer salads, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, which are among the most perishable foods at cookouts (SOURCE: Food Safety by Events and Seasons | 

  1. Clean everything: It is important for those preparing and handling food to frequently wash their hands before and after they start cooking, and to use fresh, clean plates and utensils for serving cooked food (SOURCE: Four Steps to Food Safety | CDC).

  2. Do not cross contaminate: Raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs can spread germs to ready-to-eat food unless you keep them separate (SOURCE: Four Steps to Food Safety | CDC).

  3. Cook to the right temperature: The only way to tell if food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature.

  4. Refrigerate perishable food within two hours. When food is left unrefrigerated for more than two hours, bacteria grow rapidly. For temperatures over 90F, food should be refrigerated within an hour (SOURCE: Four Steps to Food Safety | CDC).

Dr. Roman Castillo is an internal medicine specialist with WellMed at Eastfield.