Beach parties, backyard BBQs, festive holidays – all of this and more takes place during the summer and puts food at the center of attention. Summer spreads are definitely one of the best things to enjoy during the season. Unfortunately, unless proper steps are taken to prevent it, there’s at least one dark cloud that could rain on your summer fun: food poisoning.

Food poisoning is more common during the summer than any other season. This is because summer weather tends to provide the perfect conditions for dangerous microorganisms to flourish. The result? Poorly prepared food could make you sick for at least a day, if not longer, and in truly severe cases could even lead to hospitalization. The good news, though, is that simply following proper food prep guidelines will greatly reduce your risk of suffering from food poisoning, and will allow you to enjoy your summer to the fullest.

To make sure food poisoning doesn’t crash your summer plans, make sure that you:

  • Wash your hands, your kitchen, utensils and boards often and thoroughly. One major cause of food poisoning is the cross contamination that occurs when dirty or raw food touch your hands, utensils, cutting boards, or other surfaces in your kitchen. To remove any lingering pathogens or microorganisms to, be sure to wash your hands, utensils, countertops, and cutting boards regularly and properly. This means truly washing them – not just rinsing them!

  • Never put raw and prepared food together – and don’t mix raw foods, either. If you’ve already taken time to clean and prepare one food item, be sure that you keep it separated from uncooked raw foods that have yet to be prepared or cleaned. It’s also important to keep different uncooked foods separated as well. And never use a previously used cutting board to prepare a new kind of food, unless you’ve already thoroughly cleaned the board. Doing all of this will help prevent cross contamination.

  • Keep your food at a proper temperature at all times. Since food poisoning occurs due to an outbreak of certain bacteria and microorganisms, it’s important to ensure these problematic organisms don’t have a good environment to grow it. This means that you should always store food in a refrigerator or freezer, and you should never leave food out for more than one to two hours after purchasing it. You should also never set food out to let it thaw; instead, put it in your fridge or use your microwave’s defrost setting.

  • Don’t undercook your food. Following cooking guidelines can actually help you eliminate some causes of food poisoning. However, this only occurs when you cook your food at the proper temperature. To ensure you do this, follow cooking temperature guidelines and use a food thermometer to ensure you’re hitting your goal temperature while cooking.

  • Cover and store food properly. Once you’ve prepared your meal, make sure you have something that will keep it covered during your big summer event; this will keep bugs and other contaminators from getting into your food. You should also make sure that your food is placed back in a fridge within about two hours – and always within one hour if it’s 90 F that day – of being prepared and set out. While leaving food out can be tempting, it’s a huge food poisoning risk factor and honestly isn’t worth it.

Following these safety guidelines will help reduce your risk of developing food poisoning. However, even if you do take these steps, make sure that you stay on alert for problematic symptoms, especially if you have young children or if you are pregnant, are an older adult or if you have a weaker immune system. In many cases, people that contract food poisoning will show only very mild symptoms, which can be treated at home. In fact 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 in a timely fashion. Your doctor should always be contacted if you begin to suffer from symptoms such as severe diarrhea or vomiting for more than one day. And if your symptoms include severe dehydration, trouble breathing or bloody diarrhea, call 911 for help.

Our final advice? While food poisoning can be worrisome, it’s easily avoidable and often not extremely severe. If you take proper steps to avoid it, and know when to call a doctor and when to stick to bed rest, you should be able to enjoy your summer to the fullest.