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Foodborne illnesses often follow outdoor picnics, gatherings

As the Independence Day holiday nears, Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) reminds Iowans to keep food safety in mind at picnics and barbecues.

“When large gatherings like holiday-related picnics and meals happen, we typically hear about people getting ill with diarrhea and vomiting from foodborne illnesses,” said IDPH Medical Director Dr. Patricia Quinlisk. “Most of these illnesses are caused by foods that are improperly cooked or stored.”

Especially during warm weather, food safety begins at the grocery store.

“When shopping, buy cold foods like meat, poultry and dairy products last, right before checkout,” Quinlisk said. “Plan to drive directly home from the grocery store so the food doesn’t sit in a hot car any longer than necessary. You may also want to take a cooler with ice or insulated grocery bags to transport perishables home — especially if your drive home is more than half an hour.”

Once home, place cold foods like meat, poultry and dairy products in the refrigerator right away.

To make sure you, your family and friends have a healthy holiday, remember the following tips:

• Cook all meats thoroughly, especially ground meats like hamburgers and sausages like bratwursts. Use a meat thermometer to ensure the middle of the meat has reached a temperature that will kill the organisms that can make us sick. Cook chicken to 165 degrees, ground meats like hamburger to 160 degrees, and whole meats like steaks or pork chops to 145 degrees.

• Marinate foods in the refrigerator — not on the kitchen counter or outdoors. In addition, if you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce on the cooked food, set aside a portion before adding the raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Don’t reuse marinade as this can recontaminate the food.

• Cook thoroughly and immediately after “partial cooking.” If you partially cook food in your kitchen to reduce grilling time, do so immediately before the food goes on the hot grill.

• Keep cold food cold and hot food hot. Whether in your car or on the picnic table, illness-causing bacteria can grow in many foods within two hours and during the summer heat, that time is cut down to within one hour.

• Don’t reuse platters or utensils. Using the same platter or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood allows bacteria from the raw food’s juices to spread to the cooked food. Instead, have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side to serve your food.

• Have a way to wash your hands prior to eating. For example, if picnicking, bring soap and water or hand wipes so that everyone can clean their hands before they eat.

For more information on preventing foodborne illness, go to www.idph.state.ia.us/Cade/Foodborne.aspx.

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