It’s Summertime! All year, we wait to get outdoors. Chances are, your patients like to enjoy summer, too. That includes picnics and cook-outs, both with families and during special events at the facility.
Warm weather means fun, but it can also lead to unintended mishaps when food contamination or unsafe food handling gives bacteria the opportunity to grow. Patients are already vulnerable to digestive problems, so special attention is needed to keep everyone healthy. You may not be responsible for the actual food preparation, but it’s still good to know about keeping patients--and staff--safe when eating outdoors.
Here are seven tips that you can use both during outings with patients, and when you have your own barbecues:
1. Bring soap, moist towelettes, or hand gel to keep hands clean! Provide ways for everyone to wash their hands as often as necessary, but always before handling food. Staff should also wash hands between patients and preparing each patient’s plate.
2. Keep cold foods cold! All cold food should be packed with ice or gel packs to maintain a temperature of 40 degrees or colder. If possible, keep beverages in a separate cooler, to reduce the number of times the cooler with perishable food items gets opened.
3. Pack coolers well! A full cooler is more efficient than one with only a few items in it. Use plenty of ice to fill in extra spaces. Keep meats well-wrapped and separate from other items, such as salads and cooked foods.
4. Wash all produce! Summer fruits are delicious, but their skins need to be rinsed well before being eaten. If you’re uncertain whether any fruits or vegetables were washed before being transported to the picnic site, take a few minutes to rinse them in clean running water and dry with a paper towel.
5. Cook all food completely! Use a meat thermometer when cooking meat. Steaks have to be at least 145 degrees; burgers are done at 160 degrees and chicken must cook until 165 degrees. Never undercook; bacteria can thrive in raw or rare meats. Once cooked, keep food warm. Do not use the same plates and utensils used to hold the raw meat to serve cooked food; the juices of raw meat allows bacteria to quickly multiply.
6. Know the Danger Zone! Food that is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees can only be out for a limited amount of time. Once food has been served, it must be refrigerated within two hours---only one hour if the outdoor temperature is over 90 degrees. Don’t go by how a food smells; if it’s been outside too long, it must be discarded.
7. Take care of high-risk people! When cooking or serving, be especially aware of anyone who might be at risk for food-borne illness: the elderly, chronically ill patients, pregnant women, and children can quickly become ill if food isn’t properly prepared or stored.
We all want to enjoy the beauty of summer! Being out in the sunshine and eating with others is a relaxing time for everyone. Remember that “An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure” is never more important than when eating outdoors in warm weather.
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