Summer is a great time of year for food. Many of us will be attending backyard barbeques, family picnics or campfire cookouts all season long. We enjoy all kinds of dishes from juicy steaks and burgers to sweet and delicious fruit. But while we’re enjoying these summer treats, food safety can fall off our radar. In many instances, this can lead us and those we care about to get sick.

Cases of foodborne illness, or food poisoning, are much higher in the summer than any other time of the year. One of the biggest reasons for this is that bacteria in food multiply at a much faster rate in hot, humid weather. Occasions where we prepare and eat food outdoors without the proper heating and cooling elements greatly increases our risk for contracting food poisoning.

What is Food Poisoning?

There are over 250 different specific bacteria-related diseases that can cause food poisoning. Some of the more common ones are Salmonella, E. coli, Botulism and Listeria. These diseases cause a variety of symptoms ranging from double vision, severe diarrhea, vomiting and fever.

In many cases, people that contract food poisoning will show only very mild symptoms which can be treated at home. But many instances of food poisoning can still be very dangerous, especially for young children, the elderly and people with conditions that weaken their immune systems. Minor symptoms, such as mild dehydration diarrhea, vomiting and fever, can be treated at home. However, it’s still important that you inform your doctor of your symptoms if you do not begin to feel better right away. Your doctor should be contacted if you begin to suffer from symptoms such as severe diarrhea or vomiting for more than one day. 911 should be called immediately if symptoms include severe dehydration, trouble breathing or bloody diarrhea.

Tips For Preventing Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is very common, but it’s also very easy to prevent. Taking the proper food safety measures will help ensure that you and your loved ones won’t get sick from your cookout or picnic this summer. Keep these tips in mind when handling and preparing food, not only this summer, but all year round:

  • Get Food Home Quickly - Before you can even begin preparing food, you have to get it home from the grocery store. During the summer months, it’s important not to make any stops between home and grocery shopping; you don’t want to leave food items sitting in a hot car. As soon as you’re done shopping, get your food into your refrigerator as quickly as possible.

  • Wash Your Hands -  Preparing food with unwashed hands is one of the prime causes of foodborne illness. Wash your hands after using the restroom, changing diapers and handling pets. You should also wash your hands immediately after handling raw meat.

  • Avoid Cross-Contamination - Do not let raw meat come into contact with ready-to-eat food. When transporting food items, be sure that raw meat is wrapped securely or else put in a separate container from other food items.

  • Heat and Refrigerate Properly - If a food item is meant to be heated or refrigerated, it should never be left sitting out. If you don’t want to refrigerate hot foods right away, the should be kept heated to at least 347 degrees fahrenheit. Leftovers should be refrigerated immediately. If a food item has been sitting out in the open, do not risk eating it. Throw it away.

No one wants their summer fun to be ruined by a case of food poisoning. Always make sure that you and those around you are taking the correct measures to ensure that food is always safe to eat.

*Image courtesy of Flickr user pegwinn