Commissioners Novello and Rudgers: Offer Important Food Safety Tips for Independence Day

Common Sense, Preventive Measures Can Help to Eliminate Potential Foodborne Diseases and Illness During the Summer Months

Albany, July 3, 2001 – New York State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello M..D., M.P.H., Dr. P.H., and Agriculture Commissioner Nathan L. Rudgers, of the State Department of Agriculture and Markets, today reminded all New Yorkers to thoroughly cook meats and to properly prepare fresh produce when planning picnics and barbeques this Fourth of July holiday. The Commissioners outlined important, common sense steps that should be taken that will help reduce the risk of foodborne illness and ensure healthy and safe holiday meals.

"Commissioner Rudgers and I have outlined a number of preventive measures that will significantly reduce the chance of foodborne illness. We want all New Yorkers to enjoy Independence Day by picnicking at parks or in their backyards with family and eating food that is safe and wholesome," Dr. Novello said. "Foodborne diseases are especially serious for pregnant women, babies and the elderly who have fragile immune systems and may require emergency care as a result of foodborne illness. Healthy adults may also experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. The good news is that nearly all foodborne illness can be prevented with proper food preparation."

Commissioner Rudger said, "A warm, sunny day is perfect for a picnic with hamburgers on the grill, homemade potato salad and fresh produce from the local farmers' market, but the summer heat can spoil your food. Food left out in the sun or in hot cars too long may cause foodborne illness when consumed. By taking the common sense steps that Commissioner Novello and I have suggested for food preparation and storage, New Yorkers will be able to enjoy a safe picnic season with their family, friends and all of their favorite foods."

Dr. Novello said that foodborne illnesses increase during the summer because harmful bacteria grow fastest in warmer temperatures. Temperature control is the key to safe food preparation. Bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature, but do not grow well at temperatures at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Perishable foods like poultry, shellfish, eggs and dairy products should be refrigerated if they will not be used within two hours.

Cooking food at very hot temperatures will destroy bacteria. Use a thermometer to check food temperature when grilling, cooking or broiling meat. The internal temperature should be at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit for beef, veal, lamb, pork and ham, and a minimum of 170 degrees Fahrenheit for poultry. Using a thermometer is the most reliable way for consumers to ensure that meat and poultry have reached a temperature sufficient enough to kill disease–causing organisms. You cannot tell simply by looking whether meat is cooked enough to destroy harmful bacteria. The Commissioners recommend keeping hot food at or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Departments of Health and Agriculture and Markets said the following steps should be taken when preparing summertime foods.

Food Safety Tips for Red Meat, Poultry, Fish and Eggs

  • Ground beef should be cooked thoroughly until it is 160 degrees Farenheit to prevent possible transmission of E–coli, a dangerous type of bacteria, primarily found in raw and undercooked ground beef. Use refrigerated beef steaks, roasts and deli meats within three or four days. All refrigerated poultry should be used within 48 hours.
  • With hot soapy water, wash all knives, cutting boards and other utensils used to prepare raw meats, eggs, dairy products and other perishable and temperature–sensitive foods.
  • When preparing meat, remember to thaw in either a refrigerator or microwave; never leave meat out at room temperature and once thawed, finish cooking immediately.
  • Keep raw and cooked foods separated, so they do not contaminate each other. Use a clean dish for cooked burgers, meat and poultry.
  • Poultry should be cooked thoroughly to 170 degrees Farenheit to prevent the possible transmission of salmonella. Salmonella is also a bacterium that is found in meat or poultry and eggs. Salmonella has no smell or taste, making it difficult to detect.

Important Food Safety Tips for Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

  • Thoroughly wash all fresh fruits and vegetables. Check for blemishes and imperfections; cut away discolorations and bruises.
  • Prepare fruits and vegetables with clean utensils, on a clean surface to avoid cross contamination.
  • Consume prepared fruits and vegetables within four hours. If not, they should be refrigerated.
  • Fire safety is equally important when cooking on a barbecue grill or outdoor fireplace. Make sure the cooking location is at a safe distance from flammable objects, including buildings, camping equipment, trees and picnic tables. Keep all children and pets away from your cooking area. While cooking, protect yourself from burns by wearing a heavy apron, using potholder–style mittens, and long–handled utensils, and keeping a fire extinguisher or a bucket of water or sand close to your cooking site.

The Commissioners also recommend using frozen juice boxes, freezer gels, or jugs of frozen water to keep foods cold in a cooler or picnic basket, and to drink juices and water as they defrost. They also reminded New Yorkers that: paper bags should not be reused, if soiled; plastic lunch boxes and insulated sacks should be washed with soap and water, and thoroughly dried; and insulated containers should be used to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.

With a little planning, your family and friends can enjoy safe nutritious picnics and outdoor barbecues all summer long. For information about foodborne illness and proper food preparation, call the Health Department's toll–free hotline at 1–800–458–1158 or contact the Department of Agriculture and Markets at 1–800–554–4501.

7/3/01–76 OPA