Some simple tips to keep your summer meals safe to eat

Grilling some hot dogs and hamburgers this time of year has become the normal, obvious thing to do now that summer is finally here.

But at the same time, there are some important food facts that people should know before they go firing up that grill.

Summer is a prevalent time for foodborne illness, and it's important to remember a couple of quick tips when dealing with illness prevention.

"Summer is the time when there are so many opportunities for foodborne illness to begin due to the heat and the humidity of the warmer weather. It's particularly important in the summer to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot, and during the summer it's easy for those cold foods to warm up," said nutrition expert Christine Palumbo, of Naperville.

That idea holds true both for cooked foods and uncooked foods. Frozen meats, especially, are frozen to keep bacteria from growing on food. But when a foods' internal temperature enters what Palumbo and other food safety expert call "the danger zone," conditions are right for bacterial growth.

"When food is above 40 degrees and it stays that way for more than two hours, it greatly increases the chances of harmful bacteria to grow and wreck havoc on our bodies," she said. "You can experience foodborne illness that could cause nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping, diarrhea, and in the very young and in the elderly it can actually be life threatening."

Palumbo then when on to discuss the best way to judge if a piece of meat has properly eliminated all bacteria, is through an "instant meat thermometer."

As for already cooked meat, it is equally important to control the temperature of those as well.

"If it's a reasonable day, maybe below 80, you can keep cooked food out for about two hours. However, once it becomes hot and humid, that two hour window actually dramatically shrinks to one hour," she said.

Dave Hess, spokesman for DuPage County's Health Department, agreed. "If you have cooked food just sitting by the grill, eat it as soon as possible," he said.

Other important staples for the summer months include festivals, which also have to be careful in dealing with the food they serve to the public.

Hess discussed the importance of festival supervision in this time period as well.

"From our perspective, summer adds to our focus a little bit because it's not just indoor facilities but everyone serving food outside too. And when you're cooking food in a remote setting or you don't have any access to a building, you definitely want to make sure the temperature of the food is maintained," Hess said.

But the temperature of the food is not the only factor in occurrences of foodborne illness opportunities. Palumbo tends to believe there is much more.

"A lot of it has to do with the mishandling of food once it leaves the grocery store, or outside of our refrigerators, there's cross-contamination that can occur when you marinate meat and use that marinade to baste meat after it's been cooked" Palumbo said.

Summer is clearly an important time for food safety, but overall just remember to watch the meat temperatures, and when food gets cooked outside, eat it quickly. I mean all health aside, who wants to stare at grilled food before eating it anyway?

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