Foodborne illnesses peak in the summer. Here’s what you can do about it.

Summer is here, and so are the chances you or someone you know could get food poisoning.

Each year, contaminated food sickens one in six Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. We also know foodborne illnesses increase during the summer because bacteria multiply faster in warmer temperatures and preparing food outdoors makes safe food handling more difficult.

Carolyn Craig
Carolyn Craig, St. Joseph’s/Candler Infection Control & Prevention manager

You can take steps to prevent foodborne illnesses. It begins with understanding bacteria.

Bacteria can be found everywhere from the soil to water to the bodies of people and animals, and especially in food. Most foods naturally have the nutrients and moisture needed for bacteria to grow. Foodborne bacteria grow fastest at temperatures between 90 to 110 degrees. During the summer months, the warmer temperatures and high humidity are ideal for bacterial growth.

“Besides hand washing, the best thing to do to prevent foodborne illnesses is planning ahead,” says Carolyn Craig, St. Joseph’s/Candler Infection Control & Prevention manager. “Be sure to keep foods separate and all surfaces clean, especially when working with raw meats.”

There are four simple steps you can take whether at home or grilling outside to help protect you and others from food poisoning: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.

CLEAN: Wash hands and surfaces often
Unwashed or improperly washed hands and surfaces can quickly spread germs and cause foodborne illnesses.

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before, during and after preparing food and before eating.
  • Wash your utensils, cutting boards and countertops with hot, soapy water.
  • Rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables under running water.
  • When eating outdoors, make sure there is a source of safe drinking water. If not, bring water and clean, wet, disposable washcloths, moist towelettes or paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.

SEPARATE: Don’t cross contaminate
Improper handling of food, kitchen utensils and surfaces can cause microorganisms to transfer from raw to cooked food. Cross contamination during preparation, grilling and serving food is a main cause of food poisoning.

  • Always keep raw meats, poultry and seafood separate from all other foods.
  • When traveling, wrap raw meats, poultry and fish securely and separately from all other foods.
  • Never place cooked food on the same surface that previously held raw food unless the surface was first washed with hot, soapy water.

COOK: To the right temperature
Food is considered safely cooked when it is heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. Using a food thermometer is the only way to ensure the safety of meat, poultry, seafood and egg products.

  • Always use a food thermometer to ensure foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature. If traveling, take your thermometer along.
  • Never partially cook food ahead of time and finish at another site. Partial cooked food allows bacteria to survive and multiply to the point that more cooking cannot destroy them.
  • Cook all raw meats and poultry to these recommended safe internal temperatures:
    • Poultry (whole, pieces and ground): 165 degrees
    • Ground meats: 160 degrees
    • Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145 degrees
    • Fin fish: 145 degrees or until flesh is opaque

CHILL: Refrigerate promptly and keep cold food cold
Keeping food at an unsafe temperature can cause bacteria to grow at dangerous levels that cause foodborne illnesses.

  • Keep your refrigerator below 40 degrees
  • Refrigerate perishable food with two hours. When outdoors and with temperatures above 90, refrigerate within one hour.
  • Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave. Never thaw foods on the counter because bacteria multiply quickly when parts of the food reach room temperature.
  • If packing food to eat outside, pack cold refrigerated perishable foods, such as luncheon meats, cooked meats and potato salad, in an insulated cooker packed with several inches of ice, ice packs or containers of frozen water.
  • Consider packing beverages in a separate cooler since the beverage cooler may be opened more frequently.
  • While driving, keep the cooler in the coolest part of the car. Once outside, place it in the shade or out of the sun whenever possible.

Related Article: Know the signs of dehydration as we face the dog days of summer

  • St. Joseph's Hospital Campus: 11705 Mercy Blvd., Savannah, GA 31419, (p) 912-819-4100
  • Candler Hospital Campus: 5353 Reynolds St., Savannah, GA 31405, (p) 912-819-6000
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St.Joseph's Hospital Campus: 912-819-4100

Candler Hospital Campus: 912-819-6000