Why is there an increased risk of food poisoning in summer?

Posted on 3 December 2018

Summer means sunny days and braais and picnics outdoors. But warmer days also bring an increased health risk posed by perishable foods that aren’t stored correctly.

Bacteria thrive in warm conditions. The risk of foodborne illnesses is directly related to bacterial contamination in foods. The warmer the outside temperature, the higher the bacterial growth rate in foods not stored at the right temperature.

Dr Christian Jeske, a gastroenterologist at Mediclinic Midstream, says there is an easy rule to follow if you want to prevent food poisoning: ensure cold foods are stored in cold conditions, and warm foods are stored in constantly warm or hot conditions.

“If food is not maintained at the right temperature – or is kept out for longer than one hour in 32°C, or for more than two hours in less than 32°C – there will be an increased growth of bacteria and the risk of food poisoning escalates,” Dr Jeske says.

Common summer health risks and how to avoid them [Internal link to December Infohub content]

Tips for preparing and storing raw and cooked food during warm weather

  • Safe food handling:
    – Always wash your hands before and after handling food
    – Keep your kitchen, dishes and utensils clean
    – Use separate chopping boards for raw meat, cooked meat, and vegetables
    – Always serve food on clean plates
  • Two-hour rule:
    – Keep track of how long foods have been sitting on the buffet table and discard anything that has been out for longer than two hours
    – If the temperature is above 32°C, keep food out only for an hour or less
    – Cook items such as hot dogs, boerewors, chicken and other grilled or braaied food in separate batches to ensure everyone eats freshly cooked food
  • Keep hot foods hot:
    – Maintain the temperature of hot foods on the buffet table using a hot plate or warming tray (60°C)
    – Use a thermos flask to keep hot soups warm at picnics
  • Keep cold foods cold:
    – Cold foods should be kept at a constant temperature of 4°C or cooler
    – Keep foods chilled on the buffet by nesting the serving dish in a bowl of ice
    – Store and display food out of direct sunlight wherever possible
    – Keep your cooler food in watertight containers, and store them on ice in a cooler box.
    – Be sure food is already cold before putting it into a cold box to maintain the chilled temperature
  • Leftovers:
    – Discard all leftover marinade, unless you can boil it and use as a sauce
    – Refrigerate or chill leftover hot foods immediately to avoid bacteria contamination
  • Beat flies:
    Flies have been associated with disease-causing organisms such as E. coliSalmonella, Staphylococcus, and others. Every time a fly lands, it is potentially spreading these dangerous bacteria, contaminating not only the food you produce but also your equipment. Keep your food preparation area clean, and your buffet covered to prevent flies landing on the food.

INFOGRAPHIC: What foodborne diseases can you catch from your food?


Published in Gastroenterology

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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