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Bacteria thrive in warmer conditions. As the following months become hotter and hotter, you can expect a number of food spoilage of leftovers due to bacterial contamination. To familiarize ourselves with these harmful microorganisms, we will be going over the specific food-related diseases that you can encounter during this summer. We can prevent contracting these diseases by discussing some practices that you can apply in your own homes. Additionally, we can also complement these healthy practices by trying to fix some bad food safety habits you may have already been accustomed to doing.
The Summer Heat And Food Safety
According to US Climate Data, Scottsdale, AZ is sitting at an average high of around 100ºF for the months of June, July, August, and September. This is the right time for microorganisms to propagate and feast on your warm and moist food.
While bacteria are the most popular microorganisms to blame for food spoilage, they are not the only ones responsible for it. Food contamination can come from bacteria, fungi, viruses, and even parasites. Bread molds are actually a work of fungi.
We previously mentioned warmth and moisture because it is the preferred environment for bacteria. This encourages growth and ultimately spoils or contaminates the food they grow in. Specifically, these are the criteria that microorganisms love:
- Temperature Danger Zone: you can expect bacterial growth at temperatures between 40ºF to 140ºF. Even more, these bacteria grow rapidly at a narrower gap between 70ºF to 125ºF. This is perfect for our temperature this summer.
- Air exposure: most microorganisms are aerobic and require oxygen to grow. Exposing food to air can encourage microorganism proliferation. This is especially true in canned goods, which need to be as far away as possible from air exposure.
- Moisture: another living and growth requirement for microorganisms is water. You can observe this in spoiled foodstuffs, which are typically characterized by getting more moist than normal.
Common Food-related Diseases to Expect This Summer
As a consequence of the warmer environment, food-borne illnesses thrive. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture says that food-borne illnesses are twice as likely during the summer. The most common cause for this is improper food handling and a bacteria-ridden environment.
These food-borne illnesses may come from different causative agents. However, they all mostly mean one thing: food poisoning. Common culprits for food poisoning include Salmonella, C. perfringens, Staphylococcus and Campylobacter. When one ingests these bacteria, commonly from mishandling raw food, one can experience symptoms such as diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting.
While most of the abovementioned diseases are avoidable through proper hygiene, such as frequent handwashing, there are some causative agents that can easily spread. Norovirus causes similar symptoms. However, it can quickly spread from one sickly person to another healthy person.
Disease-vulnerable Food Preparation Practices
To specifically discuss how to avoid the diseases mentioned above, we must address some of our routinary practices that may encourage contracting bacterial contamination. There are some things we do that we think are normal, but are actually dangerous.
Time Limit for Perishable Goods at Room Temperature
One of the most common practices that breeds germs is the handling of raw, chilled meat. The most vulnerable meats against bacteria are the ones newly bought from the groceries, which are then left in the car for a few hours. This practice is especially harmful during the summer.
Typically, perishable food such as raw meat may sit at room temperature for around two hours. However, during an intense summer heat of more than 90ºF, experts say it only takes an hour before spoilage. Especially sitting in a hot car, you should only leave them for an hour at most.
How to Thaw Food Properly
When you have successfully put the perishable goods in the refrigerator or the freezer, be sure to keep them below 40ºF to avoid microorganism growth. And when you want to take them out to thaw, don’t jump right into leaving it at room temperature.
You must thaw your foodstuff slowly so that all parts equally reach room temperature. Experts recommend leaving frozen goods in the refrigerator first before letting it sit at room temperature. When left immediately at room temperature, the outside of the food reaches room temperature first and may encourage bacterial growth already.
Reheating Leftovers for Eating Outside
As summer is the right time for cooking and eating outdoors with picnics, barbecues, and camping trips, we must also bear in mind the right way to reheat leftovers. Some might think that slow cooking at low heat kills bacteria, but it actually does the opposite. Reheating leftovers should be from a high heat of around 165ºF then to a low heat slow cooking. This kills bacteria first before preserving food at the right amount of heat.
General Tips in Food Safety During Summer
Finally moving away from our bad habits, we now discuss some more tips on being mindful of food safety this summer. Generally, these would include having good hygiene, especially when preparing food.
Keeping Your Environment Clean
While it is true that handwashing is the most basic hygiene practice that has the most impact on food safety, there are still other habits to consider. One practice highlights the importance of avoiding cross-contamination. This happens when perishable goods such as raw meat come into contact with any surface.
If that is the cause of cross-contamination, then the solution would be to wash any surface you use when cooking thoroughly. Common examples of these surfaces are utensils such as knives and cutting boards after using them on raw meat. We encourage using separate cutting boards when dealing with raw meat and ready-to-eat food such as vegetables.
Be Mindful of Meat Internal Temperature
The most common cause of food-borne diseases is improper cooking of raw meat, especially chicken. There is a minimum internal temperature for meat to be safe from microorganisms. To check this temperature, you may use specialized thermometers for cooking. For chicken, the minimum internal temperature is 165ºF. You may view the minimum internal temperature for different types of foodstuffs on the United States Food Safety website.