Summer Food Safety

Summer is a time for barbecues, picnics and, camping trips. However, fun outdoor meals can come with an increased risk of food borne illness (food poisoning) without thoughtful care and preparation. Food borne illness is caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses and/or parasites. Common causes of food borne illness are from bacteria known as Salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7. Health Canada estimates there are about 11 million cases of food borne illness every year in Canada. Most food borne illnesses are entirely preventable.

There are 2 reasons why the risk of food borne illness can increase during the summer:

  1. hot and humid weather (prime conditions for bacteria to grow and thrive); and
  2. people are less likely to follow food safety guidelines, such as hand washing and keeping food adequately chilled, when cooking and eating outdoors.

Symptoms common to most food borne illnesses are cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headaches and fever. Symptoms usually appear within several hours of eating the contaminated food, but can take several days to weeks to appear. Most people recover completely from food borne illness; however, for some, the effects may be longer lasting and more serious. The severity of illness is dependent on the type of bacteria, and the overall health of the person eating it.

The following tips will help you reduce your risk of food borne illness.

  • Keep food cold. Bacteria multiply fastest between 4°C and 60°C (40°F – 140°F) – also called the ‘danger zone’.

    • Bring along ice packs to pack around perishable foods. Some foods, such as frozen juice boxes, can act as ice packs and will keep other foods cool as they thaw.
    • Pack the cooler until it is full. This will keep the food cold longer. Keep the cooler out of the sun and keep the lid on as much as possible. If you can, keep snacks and drinks in a separate cooler. These are things you will access often and every time you open the cooler, you are letting warm air in.
    • Refrigerate or freeze food the day before your outing so it is already cold when you put it into the cooler.
    • Marinate your meat in the fridge ahead of time, and not on the counter or out in the heat.
  • Avoid cross-contamination. Keep raw meat, fish, poultry and eggs away from fresh fruits and vegetables and cooked foods.
    • Pack a separate cooler to keep ready to eat foods away from foods that require cooking, or pack raw meats on the bottom of a single cooler so their juices don’t drip onto, and contaminate, ready to eat foods.
    • Use ice packs instead of loose ice. Loose ice will melt and can transfer bacteria from one food to another.
  • Wash your hands, the cooking utensils and surfaces with hot soapy water (for at least 20 seconds).
    • Bring along 2 sets of cutting boards, utensils, etc: 1 for ready-to-eat foods and 1 for raw foods. Keep each in a separate, sealed plastic bag to prevent cross contamination.
    • Use hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes for hand and surface cleaning if there is no hot soapy water available. Remember, hot soapy water is the best option for removing bacteria and dirt so wash these surfaces as soon as you can.
  • Cook foods to the appropriate cooking temperature.
    • Take along a meat thermometer. Refer to the chart below for the proper temperatures.
    • Preheat the grill for about 20 minutes before cooking.
    • Do not put cooked food back on the same plate that held the raw food (unless you have washed it with hot soapy water first).
Food Internal temperature
Hamburgers 160°F (71°C)
Steak – medium rare 145°F (63°C)
Steak – medium 160°F (71°C)
Steak – well done 170°F (77°C)
Poultry 165°F (74°C)
Fish 158°F (70°C); until it is opaque and flakes easily
Hot dogs 165°F (74°C)
  • Make sure your water source is safe. Even if a lake or river looks safe, it may not be. Only use water from a source you know to be safe.

    • Use bottled water for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth.
    • Boil untreated water at a rolling boil for two minutes before using. If boiling water is not possible, use water purification tablets or water filters; follow manufacturer’s instructions.

For tips on what to look for when buying food at a festival or other public event, read the Fraser Health Authority news item Don't let Salmonella or E. coli take the fun out of your summer. For more information about food borne illness visit the Healthy Canadians and the BC Centre for Disease Control websites.

Last Reviewed: July 2016

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