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Keeping food safe in the summer sun & heat

Mark H. Anbinder

Summer means dining al fresco, picnics and grilling out. But how does all this outdoor activity affect your food? This week on “Take Care,” we talk to Joan Rogus, a registered dietician in central New York who has her own private practice in Syracuse.

Click "Read More" to hear our interview with Joan Rogus.

Rogus says this issue is important, but one "we often overlook until somebody gets sick,” Rogus said.

So what causes this increase in food borne illnesses during the summer? Rogus said it’s a combination of the higher temperatures, which means that bacteria that causes food borne illness can multiply faster, and outdoor dining often leaves us without safeguards like a refrigerator, a sink to wash our hands and a thermometer.

Rogus said that those most vulnerable to food borne illnesses are children and infants, elderly people, those with compromised immune systems, cancer patient and pregnant women; however, everybody should be on the lookout on how to keep food safe this summer.

Here are some tips Rogus offered to make sure that no matter what you eat, you stay healthy all summer long:

  • Make sure your groceries are cool:  food safety starts at the grocery store. Make sure you get your food home as quickly as possible to avoid the hot car. Pack your food in ice and coolers so it can prolong its life. The trunk is the hottest spot in the car, so keep it out of the sun and in the air conditioned passenger seats.
  • Keep your food chilled at a picnic: if you’re at a picnic, never leave food out in 90 degree temperatures or above for more than an hour. If you can, bring two coolers: one for food you’ll want right when you arrive -- like sodas -- and another for perishables and meats. That way, you can put that second cooler somewhere shady and toss a small blanket over it.
  • Check your meats: use a thermometer when grilling. Poultry, ground meat and steak can be cooked to 165, 160 and 145 degrees, respectively. Thaw your meat safely. Don’t leave it on the countertop. Instead, thaw it in the fridge. The microwave is fair game for defrosting if you are going to cook it right away.
  • Keep your drinks cool: if you’re keeping soda in ice, the ice gets manhandled so you’ll want different ice to serve with your drinks. Sugary drinks also attract bugs and bees, which you do not want to swallow. Cover your drink, even with just a napkin.
  • Make sure your melons are clean: even if you aren’t eating the outside, make sure you wash it, so the insides don't get contaminated when you slice it.
  • Beware of adverse weather: in case your power goes out, you can keep food in your fridge for four hours and a full freezer is good for 48 hours. If you think a storm is coming, put bags of ice about three-quarters full in the fridge and freezer. When you’re going through things later, remember -- when in doubt, throw it out.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services offers tips for summer food safety and vacation food safety.