Labor Day is this weekend, and I'm sure many of you are looking forward to a 3 day weekend. I know I am. One of my favorite things about holiday weekends is grilling out, and picnics (ok, that was two things). However, sometimes we pay for those carefree days later. (I'm not talking about making not as good food choices, it's a holiday enjoy yourself! Just try to enjoy yourself in moderation.)
Did you know that the CDC estimates that every year 48 million people in the United States get food poisoning? That's 1 in 6, those aren't great odds. If you've ever had food poisoning, you know it's pretty awful, and it can be pretty serious. There are many different types of food-borne illnesses, and each one has different symptoms that take varying amounts of time to present themselves (some, like e. Coli can take over a week before you start to feel sick).
Even though there are a lot of different viruses and bacteria that can cause food poisoning, there are a few easy things you can do to prevent getting sick.
1. The number one thing, and the easiest, is proper hand washing (soap and water, scrub for 20 seconds).
2. Cross contamination is also a big cause of food borne illness. Wash your hands between jobs in the kitchen, and every time after you handle raw meat and raw eggs. There's no need to wash any raw meat before you cook it (unless you drop it on the floor and there's dirt on it, then wash very carefully). All washing meat before cooking does is create an opportunity for microorganisms to get onto your food prep service and utensils, or other food via splashing.
Make sure you always use separate utensils to prep your raw meat/eggs and your vegetables/fruits/grains. You should have separate cutting boards in your kitchen, one that is always for raw meat and one that meat never touches. I don't just mean always between dish washing cycles, but always and forever. When you use a cutting board you create cuts into whatever material the board is made out of, bacteria and viruses can get in there and live for a long time, that's why the meat board always needs to be the meat board.
3. Holding food at the correct temperatures is another way to avoid food poisoning. That means keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold, which can be difficult when you're picnicking out at the park or beach. Coolers are a great way to keep cold foods cold, just make sure to pack them with enough ice. Foods with any kind of dairy in them (including mayonnaise) should always be kept cold. If any food is left to sit out for more than 2 hours it needs to be thrown away (don't reheat it and serve it again, some food-borne illnesses can't be destroyed by high heat). My general rule for picnicking is, if I don't know how long the food has been out I won't eat it.
Have a safe and delicious holiday weekend!
Taryn is a Los Angeles based Registered Dietitian who's passionate about helping you be your healthiest you.