Food Safety: Keep Food Safe Outdoors (cont.)

You need to be particularly careful with seafood. Raw seafood may bring on viral food poisoning. "Shellfish should be kept alive until cooked, and then consumed immediately. Don't leave shellfish or other types of seafood out for any period of time," says DuBois.

5) Invest in a meat thermometer.

The time frame necessary to cook foods thoroughly on a grill may be different from your stove at home. "A meat thermometer is the best way to be sure you have cooked foods adequately," says DuBois.

Unfortunately, people aren't always going to take the time to check hamburgers on the barbecue with a thermometer, says Slade, who is also an associate professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Hamburger meat can be very risky if not handled properly. Unlike a steak, hamburger meat is chopped and reduced, and the bacteria may get internalized, says Slade. "Once you sear a steak on the outside, it tends to be safe. This isn't the case with hamburger, which needs to be cooked until the meat in the middle is brown."

Hamburgers aren't the only foods that should be thoroughly cooked -- eggs shouldn't be runny, hot dogs should be piping hot, and chicken shouldn't be pink in the middle. Also, don't partially pre-cook meats or poultry to "finish off" later, which may facilitate bacterial growth, and remember to defrost meat or poultry in the refrigerator, not on the counter.

6) Tell your kids about food safety.

When you teach your kids about safety, don't forget to tell them the rules about how to handle foods. "It's very important that children learn from a very early age about the importance of hand washing and that they are aware that foods can make them ill if they aren't properly handled," says DuBois.

7) Enjoy non-perishable snacks.

Don't let a lack of snacks spoil your fun. If you're planning to be outside for a while, bring some non-perishable foods. Nuts, chips, peanut butter, breads, and granola bars are all examples of foods that won't spoil and are easy to transport.

8) Play it safe with leftovers.

If you plan on enjoying leftovers for days to come, don't keep food sitting out for two hours repeatedly, which Slade says may cause problems. Instead, remove the portion you want and return leftover containers to the fridge promptly, and freeze portions you don't plan on eating in the near future.

9) Call your doctor if you get sick.

Usually symptoms of food poisoning develop in eight to 48 hours, and you should contact your doctor if symptoms persist or are severe. If you suspect a group of people has been exposed to food poisoning, call your local health department.

10) When in doubt, throw it out.

If you think a food may have been contaminated or improperly cooked, throw it away. Most importantly, don't be afraid to ask questions about food safety. There is plenty of information available, and if you have questions about meat, poultry, or egg products, you can call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at (888) MPHotline. You can also visit the web site for the Partnership for Food Safety Education at FightBac.org.

Originally published June 14, 2004.
Medically updated May 17, 2005.


SOURCES: Amy DuBois, MD, MPH, FACS, epidemic intelligence service officer, Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases Branch, CDC. Peter J. Slade, PhD, director, National Center for Food Safety and Technology, Summit-Argo, Ill.; associate professor, Illinois Institute of Technology. CDC. FDA. WebMD Feature: "Burgers, Slaw -- Salmonella."

©2004-2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.



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