The summer months are filled with baseball games, art festivals, carnivals, neighborhood block parties and picnics. At these events, many of us enjoy the wonderful outdoor foods ranging from corn on the cob to deep-fried Twinkies. However, we are at higher risk for food poisoning while eating at these events.
According to the USDA, food poisoning cases spike in the summer. One of the main reasons for the increase in food poisoning cases is bacteria grows fastest during humid conditions with temperatures between 90-100 degrees.
Here are some helpful tips from the Centers for Disease Control if you are considering the purchase of food from a vendor at an outdoor event.
• How is vendor handling the food? Are the employees using tongs and wearing gloves?
• Do you see a sink in the immediate area? Employees must wash their hands before they return to work after using the bathroom. Also, employees need to wash their hands after they handle raw meat.
• Look for a sign from the health inspector or health department. Signage is usually prominently displayed. The local health department requires vendors to have a license to sell food.
• Do you see coolers or refrigerators to keep food free from contamination and out of the heat?
• Is the prep area and serving area clean?
Often, at the summer events, it is difficult, if not impossible to find health food alternatives. Look for non-fried food along with fruit and vegetable menu items. Corn on the cob and pickles on a stick are a couple of options. Also, go for desserts like strawberry shortcake or watermelon instead of funnel cake and deep-fried Oreos.
Also, consider packing a small cooler with water and fruit skewers. Pack the items in tightly sealed containers. In a water-proof container or plastic bag, place some hand-sanitizer and handy wipes. These items will come in handy if the bathroom facilities are scarce at a summer event.
Another way to protect yourself is to wash your hands often. For example, always wash your hands after you pet animals. Even if you touch railings or cages with animals, you should wash your hands.
If you become ill at a summer festival or event, report the incident to your local health department. Many times food poisoning outbreaks are first detected by multiple calls of illness to the health department. Here is a link to locate your state health department: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/international/relres.html.
Finally, the USDA offers tips on packing and handling food when camping, going to the beach or traveling by car. Click on the following link for additional tips: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/fact_sheets/Handling_Food_Safely_on_the_Road/index.asp
Reviewed July 19, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Shannon Koehle