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Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
May 27, 2005

Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D.

For Further Information Contact:
Jennifer Sciortino

Department of Health and Senior Services Offers Summer Food Safety Tips


TRENTON – The Memorial Day weekend signals the traditional beginning of summer, which means hot summer days perfect for barbecues and picnics.

But while warm weather is a perfect setting for outdoor eating, it also provides ideal growing conditions for the bacteria that cause food borne illness.

It is well known that people should wash their hands before preparing food and that individuals with gastrointestinal illnesses should not be involved in food preparation. But what may not be widely known is how long food can remain outdoors in hot weather before it becomes a health risk.

During these warm weather months, food should only remain in temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for up to one hour and in temperatures below 90 degrees Fahrenheit for up to two hours.

Commissioner of Health and Senior Services Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D. reminds New Jersey residents to take a few simple steps to reduce the risk of food borne illness.               

“Safe food handling practices are extremely important in the summer months.  Many people don’t realize how quickly harmful organisms can grow when foods are left out in the heat for extended periods of time,” Commissioner Jacobs said.  “Whether it’s in the refrigerator or in a cooler filled with ice, be sure to keep perishable foods stored at proper temperatures.  And also, cook meats and poultry thoroughly to kill any microorganisms that may be present.”

Some 76 million Americans get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die each year from food borne illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The most common infections are those caused by Campylobacter, Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 – organisms that are found in animals.  Norovirus, another common cause of illness, is spread person-to-person, and is not found in animals.

Food borne illnesses can cause fever, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and dehydration.  In some cases, they can cause more serious health problems, even fatalities.  For example, infection with E. coli O157:H7 can cause severe, bloody diarrhea, kidney failure, other severe complications and death.

The Department of Health and Senior Services offers these suggestions for reducing the risk of food borne illnesses:

  • Be extremely careful with foods made with raw eggs, partially cooked eggs or mayonnaise such as potato salad, macaroni salad, and chicken or tuna salad. These foods should be refrigerated appropriately to reduce the risk of salmonella.
  • Discard any leftovers left outside for more than one hour.
  • Wash hands with soap and water after handling raw meats to prevent contaminating ready-to-eat foods that will not be cooked, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Clean all utensils and cutting surfaces to avoid contamination from raw meat and other foods.
  • Rinse produce thoroughly before eating, including ready-to-eat, packaged vegetables.
  • When cooking meat or chicken, use a food thermometer to ensure they are cooked thoroughly to kill the bacteria that cause illness. Ground meat should be cooked until it reaches 160 degrees Fahrenheit and chicken should be cooked to 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Place cooked meats on a clean platter, rather than back on the one that held the raw meat.
  • Report suspected food borne illnesses and complaints to your local health department or state health department.  Calls from the public help public health officials detect and limit outbreaks of illness. 

For more information on summer food safety, visit the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site, .

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