Summer is the season of barbecues, garden parties and picnics, opening up the options for dining and entertaining outdoors. Yet a carefree, sunny mood must not outweigh the responsibility for ensuring all food is stored, prepared and cooked correctly to avoid food poisoning spoiling the day. Bacteria thrive in warmer conditions and can cause nasty symptoms that can even become life threatening if left untreated, or if someone with a compromised immune system is affected. Here’s how to stay safe and enjoy some al fresco suppers and snacks.
It can be all too common to undercook meat on a barbecue, through enthusiasm to tuck in, ignorance of the timings involved or simply by choosing the wrong things to cook. One idea is to cook the meat in advance on an indoor grill to make sure it is properly cooked. Then, add it to the barbecue at the last minute to get that fantastic smoky flavour. Always thoroughly thaw meat destined for the barbecue and marinade it in the fridge – don’t leave it to defrost on the kitchen counter.
When serving, cut into the meat first to check for pinkness or blood. Never put cooked meat on the same plate as raw meat and don’t let it sit at room temperature for more than two hours – keep it hot if you aren’t going to eat it straight away.
A great way to cut costs on a day out is to pack your own lunches. Again, the food must be stored at the right temperature if it is not going to be eaten straight away after being prepared. Allow time for any cooked food to properly cool down before packing it and place items in small containers, rather than one big one to help keep it cool. Use a cool bag and ice block for maximum protection, or freeze a bottle of water and keep it next to the food. You can then drink the water as it thaws. Keep your packed lunch out of direct sunlight and throw anything you don’t eat away when you get home.
Dealing with food poisoning
If the worst does happen, assess the situation and seek medical help if it looks serious or if a young child, older person or someone with underlying health issues becomes ill. They may need a course of antibiotics if a bacterial kind of food poisoning is diagnosed. Symptoms of food poisoning include vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea, as well as headaches and a feeling of lethargy. Don’t allow someone displaying these symptoms to prepare, serve or handle any food or drink. Most people will start to feel better after a couple of days’ quiet rest. During recovery, make sure the patient stays hydrated by getting them to drink water regularly, even if it is a few sips at a time. Some people find that ice chips help settle the stomach and calm the throat. When the patient starts to feel better, encourage them to resume eating slowly, starting with small portions, easy-to-digest foods and bland flavours.
If there is an instance of food poisoning after someone has eaten food that you have prepared, you need to contact any other people who may also have consumed it as soon as possible. In more serious cases, e.g. if someone collapses or is hospitalised, you may need to provide details, or samples if possible, of ingredients used so that they can be identified and isolated.