TORONTO – It’s officially the summer – or, unofficially – barbeque season – the time of year when you don the flip flops and throw some burgers and steaks on the barbeque.
But check the expiry date and wash your hands because the incidence of food-borne illness increases during warmer weather, according to Health Canada.
“We often forget about the steps before cooking,” Global News medical contributor Dr. Samir Gupta said. “I want people to think about , at every stage, how to avoid having their prepared foods or their raw foods contaminated with the bacteria they have on those raw meats.”
Gupta recommends keeping uncooked meats and anything used to handle them, including utensils and plates, away from any other food or surface.
It’s not just the uncooked meat on your homemade Cronut burger that might get you sick. Nearly 250 people were hospitalized in a salmonella outbreak in 2012 that was linked to cantaloupes.
“Keep fruits refrigerated once their sliced,” Gupta said.
And if you’re buying raw shellfish make sure to get these products from a reputable place.
“You want it to be fresh and you want it to have been cold-stored up to the point where you purchase it,” Gupta said.
Approximately four million Canadians contract some form of food-borne illness a year according to data from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
There are several precautions you can take to save yourself the (literally) gut-wrenching aftermath of tainted food.
1. Wash your hands
This may seem obvious – and it should be – but you need to be rigorous about hand washing when around food.
“We’re seeing viral infections withthe Norwalk family of viruses and those are actually spread just by manipulating prepared foods because the virus is on people’s hands,” he said. “So be religious about hand-washing when you’re handling food.”
2. Avoid re-freezing your food but…
Food can be safely refrozen if it hasn’t warmed to higher than four degrees Celsius, Gupta said.
Refrigerators are commonly kept below four degrees Celsius, so if you thaw food in your fridge, you can refreeze it.
“The best way to do that is always thaw your meat in the fridge, so that you know if you change your mind, you can throw it back in the freezer and avoid problems,” Gupta said.
3. Don’t get into a long-term relationship with your food
The fresher your meat, the better but if you’re not planning on eating it right away, Gupta recommends refrigerating the meat within an hour of buying it.
If you’re not planning on cooking the meat within 48 hours, you’re better off freezing it to reduce bacterial overgrowth, he said.
4. Don’t trust the colour of your meat
Most people cook chicken until it’s not pink on the inside but, as Gupta notes, that’s not always an accurate indicator of whether it’s safe to eat.
“You can have pink meat, or even poultry that’s actually well-cooked and you can have white-looking chicken or browned beef that’s undercooked,” Gupta said.
5. Use a meat thermometer
The best way to check whether your roast beef or chicken breasts are cooked is to use a thermometer.
Gupta suggests cooking steak or lamb to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit (62 degrees Celsius), pork or ground beef to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius) and poultry to 170 degrees Fahrenheit (76 degrees Celsius).
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