With a goal to heighten awareness of proper food handling practices, National Food Safety Month is observed in September of each year, a time when many people are taking advantage of the pleasant, late-summer weather by barbequing, picnicking, camping and enjoying other outdoor activities. The timing is significant because bacteria can more easily thrive and multiply in warm and humid conditions, which increases the risk of foodborne illness.
In general, the most effective preventive measure is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Perishable foods that remain in the "Danger Zone" (between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit) for more than two hours (or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit) can become unsafe to consume due to the possible presence of harmful bacteria.
Foodborne illnesses can be easily prevented with proper food storage, careful preparation and hygienic practices. Here are some safe food-handling strategies that can be used even when the protective features of a typical indoor kitchen, such as running water, refrigeration and temperature-controlled cooking, are unavailable:
- Make sure that everyone washes their hands – Keep a container of clean water nearby, along with some soap and paper towels, and use sanitizing wipes to disinfect cooking and eating surfaces.
- Store perishables in an insulated cooler – Pack foods and drinks between several inches of ice and keep the cooler in a shaded area, if possible.
- Thoroughly wash produce – Rinse all fruits and vegetables with water and scrub firm-skinned items with a vegetable brush, then dry them with a paper towel.
- Securely wrap all foods – Raw meats, poultry and seafood should be stored in separate, tightly sealed containers to avoid cross-contamination and prevent juices from leaking onto other foods.
- Keep drinks in a separate cooler – Because the drink cooler will be opened frequently, it’s best to pack perishables separately so they will remain cold until it’s time to use them.
Most importantly, when in doubt – throw it out.
While everyone is susceptible to foodborne illnesses, people who are undergoing certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, are particularly at risk. That’s because these treatments can weaken the body’s immune system and reduce its ability to fight off infections. If you’d like to learn more, the supportive care specialists at Moffitt Cancer Center can help. Call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online to request an appointment. You do not need a referral to speak with our experts.