Renfrewshire Council

Summer food safety

At last it's the season for family barbecues in the sun and for romantic picnics. At some point this Summer, some of us will find ourselves cooking burgers on the grill or transporting some cooked meats or salad. Unfortunately, if you aren't careful with certain foods, you may be at risk from food poisoning.

It's no picnic when a food-related illness strikes, often resulting in diarrhoea, vomiting, and in some cases severe dehydration. With evidence that food borne illnesses may be more common during warm weather, we need to take extra precautions during the summer months.

Here are 10 top tips for keeping food safe this summer.

1. Keep your hands clean

Hand washing really covers a multitude of sins. In fact, dirty hands are one of the most common ways foods get contaminated. You don't necessarily have control over where your food came from, but you can always make sure that you wash your hands. This includes washing your hands after changing nappies or going to the bathroom and before you eat or handle foods. When you are out and about without a water source, you can use antibacterial hand wipes and gels, which are effective when used correctly. They are no substitute however for washing hands with soap and warm water. Always use soap and water to wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat or poultry.

2. Wash cooking equipment, dishes, and utensils between uses

Cross-contamination is often to blame for food poisoning. You should never let raw meat or poultry come in contact with other foods at any stage. Never wash raw chicken as this just spreads germs. Wash knives, boards and utensils which you have used with raw foods thoroughly in hot, soapy water. Keep surfaces, sponges and cloths clean or use disposable paper roll, especially after contact with raw meat or poultry juices. Other common mistakes that can lead to contamination include putting cooked foods back into the same marinade or onto the same plate that they were on when raw, and using utensils that have touched raw meat to remove cooked foods from the grill.

3. Rinse fruits and vegetables

Meat and poultry aren't the only foods that can harbour bacteria. You also need to be careful with fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruit and vegetables to be eaten raw are best rinsed and/or peeled before consumption.

4. Keep your cool

Don't take ready to eat foods out of the fridge too soon and make sure your fridge is operating at below 5oC - this will slow down the growth of any bacteria. If you are out and about, store perishables such as chicken salad, pork pies, sandwiches, coleslaw etc. in a cool box with ice packs above and below. Keep raw meat and poultry separate from other foods -- either by using plastic bags or different cool boxes. As a general rule, never eat cooked meat products, quiches or dairy products that have been out of a refrigerator more than two hours. Also make sure that desserts or cakes with cream in them are kept cool and not left out of refrigeration.

5. Cook foods thoroughly

The time needed to cook foods thoroughly on a barbecue/grill may be different from your cooker. A meat thermometer is the best way to be sure you have cooked foods adequately, but you can cut foods open and check that there is no pink meat inside. Minced meat can be very risky if not cooked properly. Once you sear a steak on the outside, it tends to be safe. This isn't the case with burgers, sausages etc. which need to be cooked until the meat in the middle is brown.

Burgers aren't the only foods that should be thoroughly cooked; a recent FSA survey showed that 65% of retail raw chicken was contaminated with Campylobacter - a nasty bug that can cause food poisoning. Thorough cooking kills the bug so always make sure that chicken pieces are not pink in the middle. You also need to be particularly careful with seafood. Raw seafood may cause viral food poisoning. Shellfish should be bought from reputable suppliers and thoroughly cooked.

6. Tell your kids about food safety

When you teach your kids about safety, don't forget to tell them the rules about how to handle foods. It's very important that children learn from a very early age about the importance of hand washing and that they are aware that some foods can make them ill if they aren't properly handled.

7. Enjoy non-perishable snacks

Don't let a lack of snacks spoil your fun. If you're planning to be outside for a while, bring some non-perishable foods. Nuts,crisps, breads, biscuits, dried and fresh fruit, and cereal bars are all examples of foods that won't spoil and are easy to transport.

8. Play it safe with leftovers

If you plan on enjoying leftovers for days to come, make sure you put them into the fridge as soon as they are cooled and eat them within two days. Freeze and label portions you don't plan on eating in the near future.

9. Call your doctor if you get sick

Usually symptoms of food poisoning develop in eight to 48 hours, and you should contact your doctor if symptoms persist or are severe. To find out if it is food poisoning you will need to give a stool sample. If food poisoning is confirmed, the Business Regulation Team will be notified. We may visit you or carry out a telephone interview about the foods you have eaten in the last few days to try and find out what caused your illness.

10. When in doubt, throw it out

If you think food may have been contaminated or improperly cooked, throw it away. Most importantly, don't be afraid to ask questions about food safety. There is plenty of information available on our website and the Food Standards Scotland website

Happy Summer Eating!