Picnics, barbecues and eating outdoors are just some of the perks of hot weather. However, these activities also increase the risk of food poisoning.
There are many reasons for this.
For example, bacteria like E.coli grow between 5C and 60C, known as the ‘danger zone’, and they multiply most rapidly at the warmer end of this temperature range.
Preparing food outdoors can also make it more difficult to handle your food safely, increasing your risk of poisoning.
But there are things that you can do to reduce the chances of infection.
Preventing food poisoning
Food poisoning is a broad term for illnesses caused by consuming spoiled food or drink. It's normally caused by bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella, or viruses like norovirus.
By taking steps to slow the growth of harmful bugs, you may be able to prevent food poisoning before it starts.
Cook your food thoroughly
It’s important to prepare meat or seafood carefully before cooking. You should also make sure they’re cooked properly and keep raw meat, fish and seafood away from other food being served.
If you’re cooking seafood, poultry or meat, make sure your food is steaming hot in the middle before serving. You can also check that meat is cooked properly by inserting a knife into the thickest part, and waiting to see if the juices run clear.
If you’re still not sure whether your meat is cooked through, you may want to use a meat thermometer to check that your food has reached the right temperature for any harmful bacteria to be killed.
This is 62C (145F) for fresh pork and fish, 71C for eggs and red meat, and 74C for poultry, cooked ham and all leftovers.
Store your food properly
Meat, leftover meals and summer staples like potato salad or coleslaw can all spoil if they’re left out for too long.
Make sure you refrigerate foods that go bad quickly, like cooked meats and potato or pasta salads, within 90 minutes. You should also eat or throw away any refrigerated leftovers within 2 days.
Check that your fridge is set to 5C (41°F) or below at all times to keep food cold enough, and keep raw meat stored in the fridge until you need to cook it.
It’s important to make sure that your fridge isn’t overfilled. Air can’t circulate properly if your fridge is too full, and this may mean that your food ends up getting too warm.
Wash fruit and vegetables before you eat them
Salads and other picnic-friendly foods often contain raw fruit and vegetables that can carry dangerous germs.
If you’re making a salad or packing fruit and vegetables, rinse everything under running water -- even if they have a tough, outer rind that you don't plan on eating. You can also clean firm-skinned fruit and vegetables with a vegetable brush.
However, there's no need to wash packaged fruit or vegetables that are labelled as “ready to eat”.
Keep raw and cooked food separate
Raw meat, seafood, eggs and dairy can spread germs to the rest of your food if you don’t take steps to keep them separate.
You can do this by:
- packing raw and ready-to-eat or cooked foods into separate bags at the supermarket
- keeping raw meat in sealable containers at the bottom of your fridge – this will prevent the meat from dripping onto other foods, and minimise the risk of cross-contamination
- using a separate chopping board for raw and ready-to-eat foods
- not placing raw meat next to cooked foods on the table
Wash your hands and keep cooking surfaces clean
It can be tempting to ignore safety procedures around handling food when you’re eating outside, but it’s important to try and keep things hygienic.
Many bugs can live on countertops and other surfaces, so make sure you wash your utensils, cutting boards and worktops with hot, soapy water whenever you’re preparing food.
You should also try to wash your hands before and after handling food. If you're eating outside and you don’t have access to hot water and soap, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser to clean your hands, but it's important to make sure that it’s at least 60% alcohol.
Avoid handling food if you have an upset tummy, diarrhoea or vomiting, and open cuts or sores on your hand.
What are the main symptoms of food poisoning?
The symptoms of food poisoning can vary depending on the underlying cause, but most people find that they feel sick or nauseous, vomit or get diarrhoea.
Stomach cramps are another common symptom, and you may find that you get a high fever, aching muscles or chills.
The symptoms of food poisoning can begin within a few hours or up to a few days after eating the contaminated food. In rare cases, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear.
When to see a doctor about food poisoning
Most cases of food poisoning can be treated at home.
The symptoms may be unpleasant but they generally pass after a week or so, and you should be able to manage your symptoms by resting and drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
Because some causes of diarrhoea and vomiting can be infectious, you should tell the receptionist that you have these symptoms on arrival as they may want to seat you in a separate area.