(CBS News) – It’s the unofficial start of summer and many of us are looking forward to enjoying family, friends, fun and food outdoors. Federal health officials are reminding everyone to keep food safety in mind during summer festivities.
Health experts say hot and humid weather conditions create the right environment for foodborne illness, so keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. “We want to avoid what we refer to as the danger zone. So, that temperature range between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit because that’s the range at which potentially harmful bacteria can rapidly multiply,” says Karen Hunter, chief of staff with the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the USDA.
Hunter says it’s easy to forget food safety in the summer because we often prepare and eat food away from the house at places like the beach or campsite.
“Pack your food in a cooler with multiple cold sources. Pack your raw food such as your meat and poultry products separately from your ready to eat foods. Bring that food thermometer with you so that you can check to be sure that you’re cooking those foods to a safe end temperature,” Hunter says.
The CDC estimates 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses every year.
“Those people who are immunocompromised, people who are elderly and children. Foodborne illness affects them significantly more, so and can lead to some long-term complications.
Hunter says make sure hands and surfaces are clean before and after preparing food. Once the meal is done, get everything back in the fridge. Don’t leave foods out for longer than two hours. One hour if it’s over 90 degrees outside. A USDA survey shows more than half of participants did not attempt to wash their hands while preparing meals.