Skip the BBQ outbreak: Food preparation 101 for summer months

Healthy BBQ

Vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, death – none of these things are welcome at a family barbecue or staff picnic.

But more than 500 Nova Scotians invite them each year through improper preparation, cooking and maintaining of food.

“Every year in Nova Scotia we see 400 to 500 cases of food or water borne illness in Nova Scotia and the majority of those are campylobacter and salmonella,” said Dr. Lynda Earle, Medical Officer of Health for South Shore, South West and Annapolis Valley. 

“Of these cases, 15-30 are E. coli, which can cause severe illness and is often associated with undercooked ground beef. While it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of gastrointestinal illness, many of the bacteria are associated with foods like poultry, eggs, and undercooked meats.”

While food contamination can happen at any time of year, during the summer people tend to engage in more outdoor food events like picnics and barbeques, where the normal equipment to ensure safe handling of food isn’t always available.

“Those types of products are key risk factors,” said Dr. Earle. 

And when food isn’t prepared properly, or maintained at an appropriate temperature, the result can have a sickening effect on many people eating the same egg salad or grilled chicken. This can cause outbreaks, where several people become sick.

Not just meat

While people tend to be suspicious of how well a piece of meat is cooked, it’s worth remembering that other foods also contain bacteria and can make people sick if misused. 

There are other bacteria present in small amounts in cereals and rice, for example,  that can be a problem if the appropriate temperatures aren’t maintained. It’s important to know what’s needed to safely serve any product, said Dr. Earle

“There’s a lot to be said about knowing what kinds of food you are preparing and how to prepare it properly and cleaning up well,” she said. “And if you are out at a barbeque, make sure food is being maintained properly.”

For tips about safe summer barbecuing, read this Q and A prepared by the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture.