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The 4 Cs: how to avoid food-borne illness during barbecue season

Public Health Agency of Canada says July and August prime months for food-borne illness

cbc.ca July 7, 2018

As the barbecue and picnic season begins to peak, so do food-borne illnesses. 

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, July and August are prime months for bacterial food-borne illnesses. 

In many cases, food from barbecues and picnics can be the culprit for a summertime stomach bug.

"When you start seeing temperatures over 30 degrees celsius out in the real world, than you're going to start seeing much more amplification of the bacteria," said Jason Tetro, a microbiologist and author.

According to Tetro, combining large amounts of food with warm temperatures can cause bacteria to multiply by roughly 4,000 times, which puts people in the realm of getting an infection. 

"When you're away from a kitchen or restaurant, you're away from many of the amenities we can take advantage of," he said.

Those amenities include soap, running water, detergents, refrigerators, stoves and space to keep foods separated, all of which can be used to prevent food-borne illness.

"You have to start thinking about how contamination can happen, and if there is contamination, how is that going to effect everything that you're serving," he said.

Many food borne illnesses at outdoor cookouts stem from meat that isn't cooked enough, cross contamination or people with gastrointestinal illness that do not wash their hands before handling food, says Tetro.

The four Cs
The best way to avoid spreading food borne illness, according to Tetro, is remember the four Cs — clean, cross contamination, cook, chill.

He says it's crucial to make sure surfaces are clean by using either disinfectants or disinfectant wipes, as well as keeping hands clean with either soap and water or hand sanitizer.

Cross contamination can also cause infections. Therefore, separating meats, eggs, vegetables and other foods that can carry large amounts of bacteria is important.

To avoid illness, Tetro recommends cooking meat to at least 71 degrees celsius. 

After eating, it's important to put food in a chilled cooler with ziploc bags to reduce bacterial growth and avoid cross contamination.

Despite the possibility of illness, Tetro says people should enjoy barbecue and picnics but to make sure food handlers are following the four Cs.