Summer is nearly here, and with it comes festivals, fairs, carnivals, and amusement park visits.
While fun tends to peak during the warmer months, so does the risk of getting sick from contaminated food.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), foodborne illness peaks during the summer months for two reasons: bacteria multiply faster in warmer temperatures, and preparing food outdoors makes safe food handling more difficult.
When you prepare food at home, you can ensure safe handling procedures are followed.
But when you attend outside events, you have to rely on other people to prepare food safely. Unfortunately, the food and drinks that are offered at summer events can carry serious health risks.
Here's how to prevent foodborne illness from ruining your family's festivities.
The most important thing you can do is be sure and your family wash your hands – often.
Find out where hand washing stations are located.
Wash your hands with soap and clean running water for at least 20 seconds.
Always wash hands after using the restroom, after playing a game or going on a ride, after petting animals, before eating and drinking, after changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet, and after removing soiled clothes or shoes.
Bring hand sanitizers or disposable wipes in case there aren't any places to wash your hands.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says to consider the following before buying food from a vendor:
Does the vendor have a clean/tidy workstation?
Does the vendor have a sink for employees to wash their hands?
Do the employees wear gloves or use tongs when handling food?
Does the vendor have refrigeration on site for raw ingredients or pre-cooked foods?
Has the vendor been inspected? Is a recent inspection report available? Requirements vary by state, but in general temporary and mobile vendors, like those at fairs and carnivals, should have a license to sell food and beverages in a particular state or county for a specific time period. You can check with the local health department to see if the vendors are licensed and if a food inspection has been completed.
Even experienced food operators and restaurant cooks face challenges when preparing items in a temporary booth or food truck, as pointed out by the Respro Food Safety blog: