Summer Food Safety



Warmer weather is coming soon, school is almost out, and many people are looking forward to holidays.  It is never fun to have wonderful days shadowed by a foodborne illness.


Health Canada states:

The most common symptoms of foodborne illness include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and fever. Depending on the type of bacteria, virus or parasites, these symptoms can begin a few hours after eating contaminated food or can be delayed by several days, or even weeks. Most people affected by foodborne illnesses recover completely; some, however, suffer more serious health effects, including such conditions as brain infections and blood poisoning, which in rare cases could be fatal.

Gov.Canada publications/H13-7-83-2010 -summer.pdf


Food borne illnesses are preventable with a little common sense and vigilance.  Taking your good practices that you use at home out with you is easy with a little forethought.


  • Handwashing   Wherever our summer days take us, handwashing is still the number one best practice for avoiding illness.  Potable running water, soap and towels are not always available. Many people chose to use antibacterial hand gels. This can effectively sanitize hands as long as it is used with the same vigilance of proper handwashing anytime. Ensure you rub it all over your hands including between your fingers and right up to your wrist.  One drawback of these gels is that many of them are scented. This can be unpleasant when eating with your hands. The scent should wear off quickly as the alcohol evaporates. Over use of antibacterial gels is not recommended if you have other options.


Some people like to use handy wipes. Again, some smell like baby powder, but that smell should evaporate quickly.  Alternatively, it is easy to put a damp washcloth or two that you have already soaped at home into a sealed container. You can rinse with some bottled water. This is good for plain old fashioned dirty hands. If you are at the lake or near running water, you can rinse of the surface dirt in the water.  


Some public washrooms supply water and soap which is a bonus but be sure to turn off the taps with your paper towel to avoid recontamination of your hands.  Since you may not be able to clean your hands thoroughly, avoid handling prepared food too much.


  • Outdoor Eating Picnics, barbeques and camping are all enjoyable events in summer. Choosing the food you will eat carefully, ensuring temperature control and avoiding cross contamination can ensure it is a pleasurable experience for all. The danger zone for food, in which pathogens can multiply rapidly is between 4®Celcius and 60®Celcius.  Plan your meals carefully. Use ice packs, frozen juice boxes, well insulated bags or coolers or a fridge that runs of your RV’s engine while you are driving to ensure that potentially hazardous foods like meats and dairy products are kept below 4®Celcius. Keep snacks, like whole fruits and vegetables, and granola bars separate from foods that need to stay cool to minimize opening of coolers.


While most fruit is acidic, melons are not, so are a potentially hazardous food.  If you are planning to bring that summertime favorite, watermelon here are a few tips.  While the rind is intact, melons rarely have any form of contamination. Rinse your melon with potable water at home before you leave to reduce surface contamination. It is best not to cut it in advance. Cut it just before it is to be eaten.  If you want to cut your melon in advance keep it in a cooler as close to 4® Celsius as possible and only put out as much as will be eaten immediately. If there is limited handwashing available it is wise to use tongs to hand it out.


When barbequing, avoid cross contamination by using separate tongs to handle raw and cooked food and never use the same cutting board or plate for raw and cooked food. Use a metal probe thermometer to ensure meat has reached an internal temperature of 60®Celsius.


If you are out for a few days, again plan carefully.  Your meal plan should have the most perishable foods eaten your first day out keeping dried or canned foods for your later dates. Frozen containers of chili or soup can double as an icepack your first day out, just ensure you reheat it rapidly to an internal temperature of 60®Celsius before serving. Of course, it is also important to remember not to let children run around when eating.  Food safety can include avoiding chocking as well as the microorganisms that can make you sick.


  • Family and Community Gatherings   Summer is a great time to get together, and potlucks are always fun.  On top of following all the tips above you also need to consider the needs of everyone attending.  Small children occasionally can’t wait a few hours until food is ready, or everyone arrives. Ensure you have snacking food available to tide them over.  Likewise, diabetics or people who may need to take medication with food need access to foods they can eat.


If you are bringing casseroles or dishes with a variety of food, it is a good idea to write the ingredients on a small card so people with allergies can easily avoid foods that they may react to.  


And don’t forget water.  It is easy to become dehydrated in our wonderful summer heat.  So, pack plenty of water and hats and have a wonderful summer.


Sharon Wass

Wass Education Consulting