Nothing beats fresh, in-season produce and backyard barbecuing, but warm weather carries a higher risk of foodborne illnesses. Here’s how not to fall victim to them.
One of the great things about summer is the food: fresh herbs from the garden, in-season produce, just-caught seafood. It sounds like a recipe for healthy dining, and it is—with one exception: Foodborne illnesses spike in the warm months.
“Bacteria multiply more quickly when it’s warmer,” says nutritionist Amy Gorin, RD, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. That’s why soaring temperatures and perishable food aren’t the best mix, even though you’ll find plenty of both at barbecues, picnics, and campgrounds all summer long. “Preparing and eating food outdoors in the summer makes it more difficult to maintain proper safe handling food practices,” Gorin says.
Healthy … or deadly?
Linda Hughes Photography/Shutterstock
While things like spoiled dairy or rotten meat might be your first thought when it comes to food poisoning, chances are a lot better that the cause can be found in your crisper drawer. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of all foodborne disease outbreaks that occurred between 1998 and 2008 were caused by fresh produce. “If it grows outside, animals could have brushed against it, or it could have come into contact with dirt, a source of all kinds of bacteria,” says Libby Mills, RD, a Philadelphia-based nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “The bottom line is you have to wash your produce.” Read on for the foods safety experts say could put you at most risk.
Certain kinds of produce carry an even greater health risk. Topping the list of the foods that cause the most outbreaks of disease, according to CDC data, are leafy vegetables. The reason? One of the most common causes of food poisoning, the human norovirus, likes to hang out on greens like lettuce and spinach. The virus can survive on leaves for several days, and because those foods tend to be consumed raw, there’s no chance that cooking will kill the pathogens. The good news is, most cases of norovirus-induced food poisoning aren’t deadly. Make sure you know the 8 signs of food poisoning.
These tiny seedlings seem completely harmless and are a great addition to salads and wraps when you want to add a nutrient punch—just take care, says Gorin: “Sprouts can harbor Listeria and E. coli, which can multiply quickly as the plants grow. And sprouts are difficult to thoroughly clean.” For this reason, she says, it’s best to avoid them.