Don’t Bring Foodborne Illness to Your Next Get-Together

picnic salads

If there is one thing Texans are known for, it’s BBQ and summer backyard get-togethers! But what many people don’t know is that the warmer weather can invite a lot of unwanted guests to your next cookout, picnic or outdoor party in the form of bacteria and foodborne illness. Yes, you read that right: foodborne illnesses increase during the summer. The reason why is twofold: (1) bacteria multiply faster in warmer temperatures, and (2) preparing food outdoors makes safe food handling more difficult.

“People think of burns and other grilling mishaps when they think of outdoor food emergencies this time of year, but in reality, emergency rooms see many patients during the summer who get sick from eating salads and other food that has been in the heat too long,” said Marysol Imler, RN, vice president of Five Star ER.

Cooking Outdoors

One challenge of cooking outdoors is the lack of safety controls that an indoor kitchen provides such as a refrigerator and a sink to wash hands and food. Foodborne bacteria grow fastest at temperatures between 90 and 110°F. During the summer months, the warmer temperatures and higher humidity are ideal for bacterial growth. This means that food items that are not properly cleaned, cooked or stored can lead to someone getting sick.

Before your next outdoor party, picnic, BBQ or camping trip, review these four simple steps to keep food safe: clean, separate, cook and chill.

Clean: Make sure your hands are clean and wash them often to prevent the spread of germs!

  • If possible, wash hands under running water for at least 20 seconds using warm water and plenty of soap.
  • If a sink is not available (say you’re camping), bring water for preparation and cleaning or pack clean, wet, disposable washcloths, moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.

Separate: Keep raw and cooked foods away from each other! Improper handling of food, kitchen tools and surfaces can cause microorganisms to transfer from raw to cooked food. Cross-contamination during preparation, grilling, and serving food is a prime cause of foodborne illness.

  • Use separate plates and utensils to keep foods separate.
  • When packing items in a cooler, use bags/wrap to keep raw meats and their juices from coming into contact with other foods.

Cook: Use a thermometer to prevent foodborne illness. Food safety experts agree that food is safely cooked when it is heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Using a food thermometer is the only way to ensure the safety of meat, poultry, seafood and egg products.

  • Cook all raw meats and poultry to the minimum safe internal temperatures:
    • Poultry (whole, pieces & ground): 165 °F /74 °C
    • Ground meats: 160 °F /71 °C
    • Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts & chops): 145 °F /63 °C

Chill: Foods left out and not stored properly are a breeding ground for bacteria that cause foodborne illness.

  • Cold, refrigerated, perishable foods like luncheon meats, cooked meats, chicken, and potato or pasta salads should be kept in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, ice packs or containers of frozen water.
  • Consider packing canned beverages in one cooler, and perishable food in another cooler, because the beverage cooler may be opened frequently causing the temperature inside of the cooler to fluctuate and become unsafe.
  • 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.
  • Preserve the cold temperature of the cooler by replenishing the ice as soon as it starts to melt.


Friends, family and food: nothing is better and more fun than summer get-togethers! But if things end up a little less than fun, we’re here to help. We’ll get you in and out and feeling better fast, because your emergency matters to us! Find the Five Star ER location nearest you.

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About Five Star ER

Five Star ER is locally owned and operated by the physicians of Emergency Service Partners, a respected provider of emergency physician services to hospitals and health systems across Texas for nearly 30 years. Our experienced physicians bring their excellent tradition of emergency care to a first-class, patient-centered freestanding ER.

Our patient-centered care means you will come first. Our freestanding ER provides the capabilities of a hospital emergency department, without the hassles and long waits that can be part of a hospital ER. From the comfortable lounge area and private exam rooms to our top-notch medical team and latest technology, patients can be door-to-doctor in less than 15 minutes.

This content was created to be purely educational in nature. This post is not meant to be used as a substitute for medical treatment or personal consultation regarding a medical condition. As always, if you or a loved one is suffering a life-threatening medical emergency or injury, call 911.

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