NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Memorial Day is quickly approaching and the holiday weekend can bring on welcome barbeques and grilling, but also the potential for unwelcome foodborne illness.
According to officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne illness tends to ramp up during the summer months. The latest data shows nearly 40 million people contract a food-related illness or virus and around 3,000 people die every year as a result.
Foodborne illness occurs when bacteria of viruses from foods are ingested and this can be caused by a variety of factors, including letting your food sit out too long.
Pamela Wilson is the manager of the Food and Facilities division with the Metro Public Health Department in the Nashville area. She said preparation is key, especially as salmonella is among the most common viruses department officials see that spread during the summer months.
“With salmonella, usually its transmitted from raw chicken or chicken products. If you cross contaminate and touch the raw chicken and you don’t wash your hands properly, and let’s say you start making a salad with those hands that still have the chicken juice on them, salmonella can be transmitted,” said Wilson.
When it comes to certain food items like side dishes, Wilson said there are a lot of common misconceptions about their storage.
“Everybody thinks that coleslaw and potato salad are your worst enemies during the summer, but if you keep those down in ice and/or refrigerated, you shouldn’t have any problems,” said Wilson.
She said a key factor is making sure your food is either heated or cooled to the right temperature.
“You would hope that everyone would be careful when preparing dishes, that they’re washing their hands properly. If it’s a cooked product where you have to heat it, that they’re cooking it to the right temperature. In the case of chicken, you definitely want to cook it to at least 165 degrees. When it comes to grilling ribs, you want to make sure you are cooking those to at least 155 degrees,” Wilson continued.
If you plan to transport, pack, or store your food, Wilson recommends checking the temperature before you travel, especially on trips that are longer than 30 minutes to an hour.