Backyard barbecues are one of the great joys of summer. But they can also pose hidden health hazards — from food-borne bacteria that can make you seriously ill, foods laden with hidden salt, and side dishes and dressings loaded with allergens.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness — 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. That’s one in six Americans who are sickened by consuming contaminated foods.
Liz Weinandy, a registered dietician from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Newsmax Health
most food-poisoning cases are not tied to restaurant meals, but improperly prepared home-cooked meals or those left unrefrigerated for too long — something that comes as a surprise to many people.
“This does not surprise me at all because many people do not know safe food handling and storage guidelines,” she says. “I actually cringe to think about my own lack of knowledge on this before I became a dietitian!
“The problem is that most people are not taught about food safety in school and unless it is practiced at home, many people don't give it a second thought. It is important, though, since millions of Americans get sick from unsafe food handling every year and although most recover just fine, some land in the hospital and even die. Just as we teach children to look both ways before crossing the street, so should we be teaching food safety.”
The good news is that simple precautions can keep you and your family safe from food-poisoning and other hazards of backyard barbecues. Here’s a handful of tips and strategies from Ohio State experts and others:
Keep cold foods cold, hot foods hot.
Cold foods should be ideally put in shallow containers and then kept on ice to keep them below 40 degrees — particularly if they’re set outside on hot summer days. Similarly, hot foods should be kept warm — above 160 degrees — to prevent bacteria from growing on food.
Don’t leave foods out too long.
Make sure to refrigerate leftover food within two hours of sitting them out to eat. If it is over 90 degrees outside, this time shrinks to one hour. If food is left out longer than this it can grow some serious bacteria. Avoid eating food that has been sitting out that long and throw it away instead of sending home with guests or keeping it for lunch the next day.
Cook meats thoroughly.
Don’t guess whether grilled meat or other foods are sufficiently cooked; use a thermometer. It only takes seconds and is one of the best tools to make sure meat and other foods are cooked through. In general, ground meats like hamburgers should be cooked through to at least 160 degrees and poultry like chicken breasts to 165 degrees.
Keep a clean kitchen.
Make sure to use separate cutting boards, utensils, tongs and plates for raw meat and cooked products. Anything that touches raw meat should be completely sanitized before being used again or use clean ones to avoid cross contamination.
Try a safety app.
Consider downloading the Home Food Safety
app on your phone to keep this info and more in one spot for easy access.
Watch out for salty foods.
For people on low-sodium diets, many barbecue staples can be a problem. Among the ones to watch for: hot dogs with fixings, which can contain more than 1,400 milligrams of salt each; baked beans (1100 mg/cup); chips (262 mg/serving); soda (45 mg/can); potato and macaroni salads (500-600 mg/cup); bacon and salami (200-300 mg/slice); and salad dressing (150-200 mg/tablespoon).
Beware hidden food allergens.
For those with food allergies, certain dishes contain potential life-threatening allergens. Among them: green beans with added seasonings and toppings); mixed salads and dressings that may contain nuts, gluten, corn; breads made with wheat, gluten; oils on the grill from seafood that mix with other grilled foods.
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