Food-borne illness increases during the summer months. The harmful microorganisms that might be present in food grow faster in warm summer months. Most food-borne bacteria grow fastest at temperatures from 90 to 110 degrees. They also need moisture to flourish, and summer weather often is hot and humid.
Outside activities also increase. More people are cooking outdoors at picnics, barbecues and during camping trips. Often, adequate cooking, refrigeration and washing facilities are not available in these types of settings.
But there also are traditional summer foods that might increase your risk of food-borne illness if not prepared and handled safely, says Zena Edwards: homemade ice cream, hot dogs and cut melons.
Homemade ice cream
Between 1996 and 2000, the CDC reported 17 outbreaks in the US that were traced to Salmonella bacteria in homemade ice cream, resulting in illness in more than 500 people.
You still can enjoy homemade ice cream made with eggs without the side effects of salmonella infection by using egg products, egg substitutes, or shell eggs that are pasteurized – or by using a cooked egg base. Unpasteurized shell eggs can be used to make ice cream as long as they are cooked properly. Mix the eggs and milk to make a custard base and then cook to an internal temperature o f 160 degrees. Another option is to use a recipe that does not call for eggs.
The same general food safety guidelines apply to hot dogs as to all perishable products: "Keep hot food hot and cold food cold." Though all hot dogs are fully cooked, they always should be heated to steamy hot throughout before eating. Hot dogs can have a high level of the harmful bacteria listeria, which primarily affect pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems.
Any bacteria on the outside of thick-skin fruits – such as cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon and other melons – can be transferred to the inside when the fruit is cut or peeled. Because melons are a low-acid fruit, bacteria can grow rapidly on cut melons if not refrigerated at 41 degrees or below. Cut melons may be left out without refrigeration for a maximum of two hours, but any leftover melon must be thrown away. When buying cut melons, make sure they are buried in ice or stored in a refrigerated display case. Uncut melon does not need to be refrigerated, but do wash the outside of the melon before cutting to remove surface dirt.