When people think about summer and food, outdoor barbecues, picnics and parties are top of mind. But did you know that foodborne illness, or food poisoning, is much more likely to occur in summer?
Nothing puts a damper on a pool party or barbecue like a sudden illness. Fortunately, food poisoning can easily be prevented with careful handling of food in the summer heat.
Understanding food poisoning
Food poisoning is caused by an overgrowth of foodborne bacteria that causes a severe reaction in the body.
Bacteria can come from just about anywhere—the dirt, surfaces, meats and even our skin. If bacteria are transmitted from a contaminated surface to the food you’re eating, it may be able to multiply and thrive.
Cross-contamination is a major issue with summer food preparation, too. Handling both raw and cooked meats simultaneously, allowing raw meat juices to touch other foods or sharing plates between raw and cooked food items can spread harmful bacteria like salmonella.
One of the major reasons why food poisoning is much more common in the summertime is because heat causes bacteria to multiply much faster. When food is sitting out on a picnic table under the hot summer sun, any bacteria present are able to quickly multiply and potentially cause illness.
Additionally, when food is prepared and left outside, it has a higher risk of being unsafe. Maintaining sanitary cooking conditions is much more difficult outdoors. Most importantly, the ability to properly clean cooking utensils and chill the food to avoid bacterial growth are limited, so cross-contamination is more likely.
If you come down with food poisoning, the bacteria from the contaminated food you ate is causing an adverse reaction in your body. The specific type of bacteria that is causing the illness, however, may alter some of the symptoms and could be more or less dangerous than others.
The symptoms of food poisoning can take between a few hours and a week to show up after you ate something contaminated, which is why it’s so hard to pinpoint the exact cause.
Most types of food poisoning will cause a combination of stomach cramping, vomiting and diarrhea, as well as weakness, fever or shaking.
Treating food poisoning
For the most part, food poisoning can be treated at home. Although you are likely to experience a very unpleasant 24 to 48 hours, the illness should pass on its own and you should be able to make a full recovery.
Rest, drink lots of water and try to eat light but nutritious foods to avoid fatigue and dehydration. In addition to water, drink sports drinks containing electrolytes to replenish minerals like potassium and sodium that your body needs. Avoid eating any raw foods, as well as greasy foods or heavy foods like dairy.
There are some dangers you should be aware of when it comes to food poisoning and its side effects, too.
When vomiting and diarrhea occur, one of the most likely dangers is dehydration. Your body will be expelling a lot of fluids, and you’ll need to be consistently rehydrating to keep your body at safe fluid levels. If you don’t, you may need to go to the hospital to be given fluids intravenously. Dehydration can be fatal if it’s left unchecked, particularly in young children.
Additionally, not all types of food poisoning will go away in a day or two. Some types of bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria can cause multiple days or even weeks of illness that may put you at risk for complications and much more severe conditions.
Make sure you are constantly monitoring your symptoms and noting whether they are improving or worsening. Seek medical care if your condition worsens or you experience signs of a more serious condition like dehydration, as well as a persistent high fever or blood in your stools.
Preventing foodborne illness this summer
Although food poisoning is more common during summer, it doesn’t have to affect you or your family! Safe food preparation and handling is key to reducing your risk for food poisoning and keeping everyone safe.
If you’re preparing food outdoors, maintain sanitary conditions at all times. Do not mix utensils or plates for raw and cooked foods. Make sure you’re cooking all meat thoroughly to avoid bacterial contamination. Wash your hands regularly so you aren’t cross-contaminating any food items.
Once food is cooked, make sure it does not sit outside for many hours. Use coolers to keep cold food cold, and hot plates and other means to keep hot foods hot. Food can generally sit out for around an hour; after that point, bacterial growth is a high risk.
By using these tips, your family and friends will enjoy a summer of fun without the risks!