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Don't Let Bad Food Spoil The Fun

A case of food poisoning can ruin happy memories of a summer picnic or barbecue. But there are simple, common sense ways to keep from getting sick. The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay has tips on avoiding food-borne illnesses.

Summer usually brings a spike in the number of food poisoning cases. One reason for this increase is that bacteria grow faster in warmer, humid weather.

Another is that many people cook on outdoor grills, and their temperature can be tough to regulate. Sometimes chefs don't cook the food long enough, because they don't know how hot the grill is getting (many grills don't have temperature gages).

Letting food sit out for too long can also cause problems. And bacteria can spread faster if people who are cooking at a park or on the beach don't have access to running water and soap to clean themselves and their utensils.

Some of the most common food-borne illnesses seen during the summer are salmonella, E. coli and staphylococcus. These are conditions that begin with digestive problems such as diarrhea and vomiting. If not treated, they can lead to serious consequences such as kidney problems, which can result from E. coli.

So it's very important to take as many precautions as possible when eating and cooking outdoors during the summer months. Here are some tips on keeping safe:

  • Always wash your hands and utensils. If you aren't near running water, take multiple utensils and containers along so you can avoid cross-contamination, and sanitizing gel to clean your hands.
  • Get a meat thermometer. To avoid illnesses such as E. coli, meat needs to reach an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. When grilling, it's not always easy to tell how hot the grill is getting. A meat thermometer will help you do this.
  • It's important to keep cold foods cold. Potato salad loaded with mayonnaise sitting out in the sun is a recipe for disaster. Mayonnaise contains eggs, which can spoil in the heat. So put dishes like potato salad on ice or serve them from a covered cooler.
  • Instead of serving foods that can spoil, consider having non-perishable foods such as nuts, chips, breads and granola bars.
  • Discard leftovers. If you feel like food has been sitting out too long, especially if it has milk or eggs in it, don't hesitate to throw it away. No one likes to see food tossed, but it's better than getting sick from it.
  • A good rule of thumb to follow is leftovers should be refrigerated within an hour of cooking during hot weather.
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