Summer should be as much about the food you can eat as much as it is about the weather that makes barbecues and cookouts possible. When the fresh corn, handmade beef patties and grilled vegetables start to make their appearances in grocery stores in your town, you know it’s only a matter of time before you and your neighbors start filling up your patios with good food, good friends and more delicious smells than you know what to do with.

While everybody enjoys a good cookout, you should also be wary of how the food is prepared. Foodborne illnesses are a very real problem during the summer barbecue season, and if you or the cook in charge of the festivities isn’t careful about storing, preparing and serving every ingredient, the relaxed atmosphere of a summer cookout can quickly turn into one where every guest is suddenly nervous about their risk of food poisoning. While CareWell’s urgent care centers can help in the unfortunate event that you’re exposed to unsafe foods, taking care to avoid it in the first place might be your best bet.

“48 million Americans come down with some type of foodborne illness every year.”

Eat, pray that you don’t get sick, love
While you might think that food poisoning could never happen with meals that you serve, the problem is most likely more widespread than you could’ve ever imagined. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48 million Americans come down with some type of foodborne illness every year. Of those unfortunates, 128,000 end up requiring hospitalization, and in the most severe cases, 3,000 die as a result of complications from their conditions.

However, the Department of Health and Human Services also noted that in a low percentage of cases, food poisoning can leave people with long-term health effects if they don’t receive prompt treatment. These include kidney failure, chronic arthritis and damage to the central nervous system.

This is one sure-fire way to contaminate your food.
This is one sure-fire way to contaminate your food.

What causes food poisoning?
Part of the reason for the large number of food poisoning cases can be attributed to the wide range of ways ingredients can become contaminated prior to consumption. While food manufacturers are certainly at fault if contaminated equipment is used to prepare cuts of poultry and meat or to package vegetable products, you should also stay on the lookout for a few telltale signs of unsafe food preparation methods that are sure to increase the risk of food poisoning.

  • Cooked and uncooked foods together: One of the biggest reasons why you should never eat raw meats when you’re at a cookout is because the heat from cooking is often high enough to destroy any harmful parasites, viruses and bacteria in beef and poultry. However, if you store cooked and raw meats together or serve meals on plates that held them when they were uncooked, you’re contaminating everything with organisms that never even touched a flame hot enough to sterilize them.
  • Unevenly cooked foods: While you might have some barbecue attendees tell you that they like their steaks on the rare side and their hamburgers practically bleeding, it’s not always a safe bet to indulge them. Unless you’re an expert griller, you might only cook the outside of the meat, but harmful bacteria and viruses may remain intact on the raw inside. If your guests want tartare, tell them to head to a steakhouse where professionals can cook it safely.
  • Food left out in the open: There’s a reason why you store your food in a fridge instead of leaving it out on the counter until you’re ready to cook it. However, if you have a lot to do ahead of your cookout, you might take some meat or poultry out of the fridge to thaw and forget how long it’s been out there. The longer meat has been sitting at room temperature, the greater the chance that it warms up enough to temperatures that bacteria thrive in.

If you suspect that you or your cookout guests might be showing the signs of food poisoning, there’s no reason to wait it out at home and waste the next few days and nights curled up in pain. Instead, head for your nearest CareWell urgent care center where expert clinicians can help minimize discomfort and check that your health isn’t in serious danger.