SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (Good Things Utah) – With Memorial Day weekend marking the traditional start of the summer season, and bringing barbeques, cookouts, and picnics back into our lives, it’s an ideal time to think seriously about food safety. It’s important to keep food properly stored, wash everything, and avoid cross-contamination to stay safe.

We should take safe food handling and storage seriously all the time, but it becomes a particularly timely subject as the weather turns warmer.

Memorial Day weekend marks the traditional start of the summer vacation and travel season. The weather’s getting warmer, and so more and more people are breaking out the grill and starting to host barbecues and cookouts, and planning picnics in the park. It also means more and more opportunities to contract food-borne illnesses like Salmonella and E. coli, if we don’t take the proper precautions.

Experts recommend some important food handling guidelines

When hosting your summer cookouts, medical experts recommend you keep everything clean—including yourself. In fact, you should frequently wash your hands if you’re preparing and handling food. And make sure to use fresh, clean plates and utensils when serving.

Avoiding cross-contamination is also important. Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can easily spread germs, unless you take care to keep them separated. Also, you should store these food items in the refrigerator, in sealed containers or wrapped securely. And use separate cutting boards, plates, and other serving containers for your food.

Also key to note: It’s usually a good idea, and in fact recommended, to wash most meats, fruits, and vegetables before cooking. But that doesn’t apply to raw chicken – In fact, washing raw chicken can actually spread germs.

And as for preparing the meal itself, the only way to be certain that food is truly, safely cooked is to use a food thermometer.

Here are the minimum internal temperatures experts recommend you cook some common foods to before serving:

  • Whole cuts of beer: 145 degrees
  • Fish: 145 degrees, or until the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork
  • Ground meats: 160 degrees
  • Poultry: 165 degrees
  • A general rule of thumb for leftovers: Reheat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees

And speaking of leftovers: Be sure to refrigerate them within two hours (on hot, summer days when the temperature hits at least 90 degrees, refrigerate within an hour).

The dangers of improper food preparation, handling, and storage

Not preparing your food to the proper internal temperature, and improperly handling it and storing it, can lead to issues like food poisoning.

Symptoms of food poisoning can range widely in severity and duration. The most common symptoms are diarrhea, stomach pain or cramps, nausea, vomiting, or fever. According to the Centers for Disease Control, if you get food poisoning and your symptoms are severe or prolonged, it’s important to seek medical care. Some of those serious symptoms include:

  • Bloody diarrhea, or diarrhea that lasts longer than three days
  • A fever higher than 102 degrees
  • An inability to keep liquids down
  • Signs of dehydration, like not urinating much, dry mouth and throat, or feeling dizzy when you’re standing

If you’re pregnant and have a fever and other flu-like symptoms, especially after a holiday barbecue or similar get-together, see your doctor immediately. Even mild infections can sometimes cause problems for your pregnancy.

If you or someone you know gets food poisoning, visit to report it. Even if you don’t know what, exactly, made you sick, it can help public health officials identify potential foodborne disease outbreaks, and keep others from getting sick.

Seek medical attention if you get severe or prolonged food poisoning.

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