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Seasonal Health > Health Features > Summertime and Your Health > Food smarts
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Summertime and Your Health

Food smarts

Food smarts

Friends, family, and food play a large role in summer fun. Barbecues, picnics, and family get-togethers can provide us with some great memories. But summer heat can play havoc with some of our food - a delicious steak or burger (or even a cool salad) can be a breeding ground for bacteria. It's important to take some simple precautions to avoid getting sick from bacteria that can spoil our food.

The most basic rule of food safety is simple: hot food should be hot and cold food should be cold. If you're transporting hot food to another location, the safest way is to cool it down completely (in the fridge), keeping it cool in transit (in a cooler), and warm it up at your destination. If that's not possible, the food should be warmed up and then kept in a thermos-type container or something that helps retain heat. Cold food should be kept in coolers, out of the sun and inside the car with the passengers rather than in a hot trunk. Full coolers stay cold longer than empty ones, so pack it as full as possible (or use the appropriate size cooler for the amount of food). Items that need to be kept cold should be kept below 4.4°C (40°F).

When barbecuing, be sure that all meat is thoroughly cooked. The best way to check if meat is cooked enough is with a meat thermometer - don't go by how the food looks. Use one set of utensils to put the uncooked meat on the barbecue and a clean set to remove the cooked meat. Using separate utensils prevents transferring bacteria from the raw meat onto the cooked food.

General temperature guidelines are:

  • hamburgers and ribs: 71°C (160°F)
  • hot dogs: 74°C (165°F)
  • ground poultry: 74°C (165°F)
  • poultry parts: 82°C (180°F)
  • pork (ground, pieces, or whole cuts): 71°C (160°F)

If you're camping or hiking near water, no matter how crystal clear the water looks, it's not a good idea to drink it without treating it because it may have bacteria that can make you sick. Be sure to take some water purification tablets with you if you plan on drinking water from streams.

Finally, protect yourself and your campsite by storing your food in animal-proof containers such as sealed plastic coolers. Don't leave food on picnic tables or in your tent. This is an open invitation to the local wildlife to help themselves!

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