Avoiding Bacteria in the Summer

Summer is the best time for family get-togethers, cookouts, and barbecues. Long daylight hours mean plenty of time to enjoy the company and host meals for friends and family alike. But, for all the joys of summer, it brings certain dangers, too. Mosquitoes are more active, ticks are out, and even smaller critters are out to get us… So while the cooler weather of winter is prime flu and cold season, summer is all about bacteria.

Getting a food-borne illness is more likely in the summer than any other time of year, but don’t worry. There are ways to protect yourself and have a great time making and sharing food in the hotter months.

Why is Summer Worse?

No matter how clean you are, you can’t eliminate all bacteria. They live everywhere in nature. When you take a breath, eat food, or even sit around, you’re taking in bacteria. There are even bacteria living inside of you! Normally, this isn’t a problem. However, giving bacteria enough food, moisture, and a good environment means their populations can explode.

Many bacteria produce harmful chemicals. Even so, they usually exist in such small numbers that you’d never even know they were there. The problem arises when they reproduce in massive numbers.

Which Bacteria are Dangerous?

There are a few key bacteria that are medically significant. The most common ones you’ll run into are salmonella, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Campylobacter. Salmonella occurs naturally in reptiles and birds. This bacteria can seriously hurt people with weak immune systems.

E. Coli can be found on raw and undercooked eggs in America and in raw meat. While it often causes vomiting and diarrhea, it can also cause kidney failure. Campylobacter comes from raw meat juices. It usually finds its way into food through cross-contamination. It can cause mild to severe flu-like symptoms. Obviously, none of these are things you want!

Staying Safe from Summer Bacteria

We mentioned that bacteria need the right environment to reproduce to dangerous numbers. So what are the conditions that cause bacteria to grow? Like any animal, bacteria have a range of temperatures where they can thrive. Between 40°F and 140°F is considered the “danger zone” for them. Between these temperatures, bacteria reproduce rapidly.

When the weather warms up, it’s harder to avoid food heating to this temperature range. In general, throw away any food left at room temperature for longer than two hours. Yes, that includes the pasta salad at your barbecue! Bring it out in smaller batches to prevent growth. In fact, when the temperature gets above 90°F, throw it out after an hour.

Make sure any cold foods are stored on ice or with ice packs. Coolers are very useful for keeping cold foods under 40°F. Insulated containers should also be used for hot foods, kept warm, or on the grill. Always put away leftovers immediately.

The Missing Piece

Your foods are only as sanitary as the spaces they occupy! They don’t just grow in food. Hard and porous surfaces are both prone to bacterial growth in hot weather. So be sure to sanitize any surfaces you prepare raw meat on, and always prepare veggies and other raw ingredients before meats.

You can learn more about protecting yourself from bacteria on our website. If you want, we’d be happy to sanitize any cooking surfaces or kitchens ahead of an event. That way, you can serve food with confidence that it won’t be getting anyone sick!