Don’t Invite Food Poisoning to your Summer Picnic

Experts say food-related illnesses tend to spike during the summer months. Frank Esper, M.D., gives tips on how to keep your summer picnic safe this season.

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CLEVELAND – Nothing says summer like a backyard barbeque and time spent with family and friends– especially during a summer holiday.

But according to Cleveland Clinic’s Frank Esper, M.D., unfortunately, summer is also the time that doctors see more food-related illness.

“Food-related illness always seems to spike in the summer,” he said. “It’s one of those things that we do see a lot more of, whether it’s because people are doing more barbequing, or there’s more family interactions and there’s larger family get-togethers, we don’t know for sure.” 

A recent study looked at the three main culprits behind foodborne illness – undercooked meat, cross-contamination, and improper hand-washing.

Researchers studied a group of 383 people and found that only 34 percent of them used a food thermometer to check that food was cooked properly.

Eating undercooked meat can result in a variety of illnesses, commonly referred to as ‘food poisoning.’

People can also get sick when cross-contamination occurs between food preparation surfaces.

For instance, cutting raw poultry and then using the same knife to chop vegetables without thoroughly washing it can transfer harmful bacteria from the meat onto the vegetables.

The study also showed that people were not washing their hands properly 97 percent of the time.

“It’s actually very good practice to be meticulous about washing your hands because that is the number one way that we pass germs from person to person and place to place,” said Dr. Esper. “You have to scrub your hands before, during, and after preparing food and before eating for at least twenty seconds minimum to be safe – many people don’t wash long enough.”

Dr. Esper said hand sanitizers are a good option too, but even they are not fool-proof if not used properly.

“The alcohol sanitizers work very well and are actually quicker than regular soap and water, but you have to make sure you get the alcohol all over the place, on all of your fingers, and not just on the palms of your hands,” he said.

Symptoms of food poisoning include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, chills and headache. Eating undercooked meat can lead to serious illness, so it’s best to see a doctor right away if you suspect you may have a foodborne illness from undercooked meat.

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