1. News
  2. Health News

Cooking out or taking food on the road with you this weekend? Here’s how you can keep from getting sick.

Correctly packing coolers is a story in and of itself.

Photo (c) Charday Penn - Getty Images
If you’re having a cookout or picnic this weekend, don’t forget the sunscreen, but more importantly, watch what you eat. Research has shown that one out of every six Americans gets sick from some foodborne illness every year and what better time for bacteria to have some fun than in the heat with perishable food!

“USDA reminds summer travelers not to let your outdoor meal become a feast for bacteria,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Emilio Esteban. “Bacteria grow faster during the summer months because it’s warmer and more humid.”

Esteban’s agency advises party planners and cooks to keep their eye on four things:

The Danger Zone: Food temperatures between 40 F and 140 F are considered in the Danger Zone and only have a limited time before it becomes a food safety risk.

Perishable food? Chill: Remember to refrigerate perishable food within two hours, and within one hour if it’s a hot day (above 90 F). Also, keep cold foods at 40 F or below by keeping food nestled in ice on the picnic table or kept in a cooler until ready to serve.

Keep the heat on: The agency says that the flip side is to keep hot foods at 140 F or above by placing food in warming trays or on the grill.

Divide and conquer: Another way to conquer a bacteria invasion is to divide leftovers into smaller portions, place them inside small containers and keep them in a cooler below 40 F.

Taking food on your road trip?

If you’re driving somewhere and packing a cooler, the USDA says that’s a completely different game and the food should be treated differently.

  • Keep perishable foods safe by keeping your cooler stocked with ice or frozen cold sources like an ice pack.

  • Pack perishable food in one cooler and your beverages in another. The reason is that it’s possible for the beverage cooler to be opened frequently, which would cause the temperature inside the cooler to fluctuate, therefore making perishable foods unsafe.

  • Place the cooler in the shade once you are outside.

  • Half-full coolers will not keep your perishable foods cold and safe for as long as full coolers, so add more ice to the cooler in that situation. 

  • Packing items when they are frozen is another lightbulb idea. The cold temperature of your foods can be maintained by packing them in that condition.

If you do get sick...

Diarrhea, cramps, fever, and vomiting? Something else? If someone in your family comes down with a bug that might be food-related, the best thing to do is try to isolate where it came from using the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) foodborne illness chart.

It covers everything-- undercooked beef (especially hamburger), unpasteurized milk and juice, raw fruits and vegetables, contaminated water, etc. 

The chart includes all foodborne disease-causing organisms that frequently cause illness, the symptoms ranging from relatively mild discomfort to very serious, and how long the illness might last. You can find it here.

Get a health screening near you

Get Peace of Mind or Early Detection with Life Line Screening

Get started