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Don't let rotten food spoil your end-of-summer summer fun

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For those whose end-of-summer plans include a backyard bash or packing up the camper for a trip, putting food safety at the top of the to-do list should be a priority.

That’s because, according to Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Baruch Fertel, bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli thrive in warm environments.  

“When the temperatures are up, if items are left out, it’s just a better medium for these bacteria to thrive and that’s why we will see people that are affected more by these diarrheal illness commonly known as food poisoning,” he said. 

Certain foods are more likely to grow bacteria, but with good general food safety preparation, most foodborne illnesses can be prevented using four main points -- clean, separate, cook and chill.

First, make sure food and preparation surfaces are clean

Then, make it a point to keep meat and veggies separate to avoid cross-contamination.

“When you have poultry, or you’re cooking on the grill, and you have meat, ground beef -- items like that -- don’t keep them near fresh fruits and vegetables,” Fertel said. “Whatever plate you use to prepare your meat should go either in the dishwasher or be disposed of after use.” 

Next, Fertel advises those doing the cooking to be sure to thoroughly cook all poultry and meat.  

He reminds folks that a meat thermometer can be used to check the inside temperature of food to be absolutely certain something is thoroughly cooked.

Finally, keep cold foods cold (under 40 degrees Fahrenheit), and hot foods hot (warmer than 140 degrees) -- but don’t leave anything out for too long, especially in very hot weather.

“Generally, in normal temperatures, after about two hours, food should go back in the fridge,” Fertel said. “If something’s been sitting out for two hours, you probably shouldn’t eat it afterward. But, when the temperatures go above 90 degrees, experts recommend an hour or less.” 

Fertel reminds people to always wash hands for at least 30 seconds with soap and water before handling any food. 

And if there isn’t access to soap and water, bring an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean hands before cooking or eating.