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Ginger Points, NET Health

Eating a thick slice of slightly chilled watermelon. Running barefoot on newly cut grass. Getting rained on by a sprinkler. Feeling the cool breeze after a short summer rain shower. NET Health wants you to enjoy each and every summertime moment, and the Environmental Health Department of NET Health would like to ensure safety is at the forefront of all you do this summer. We are here to help you stay outside with family and friends, rather than being indoors because of an environmentally acquired illness that is easily preventable.

As you plan the rest of your summer activities, please be aware of your environment. Help your family and friends celebrate the season by communicating these few tips:

Air Quality: Allergies are a culprit in the springtime, and as things heat up, wildfires are more of a threat to our local air quality. Please be mindful this summer of the dry conditions that can turn a fireworks party into a fire emergency or an unplanned hospital visit very quickly.

Water Quality: Wastewater and improperly treated sewage are offensive to the nose and can be loaded with very high numbers of bacteria, viruses and parasites that can be dangerous to animals and humans. If you are aware of any faulty or failing system, these need to be reported for needed repairs.

Trash and Garbage: Decay smells wretched. This in turn invites flies and unwelcomed animals to rummage. Trash is a source of illness transmission to others and a contamination to our water source.

Insects: Be mindful of flying insects. As you prepare the tables for your picnic, protect exposed foods from flies. They carry germs from all of their previous landing sites to your foods. During the evening hours, mosquitos will become very active. Remember to cover your skin and spray with insect repellent.

Food Safety: As the summer temperatures soar, our biological climate becomes a lot more active and germs and other living organisms multiply faster. Keep your food safe from the refrigerator/freezer all the way to the picnic table, by remember to D-O-C-K:

n Don’t cross-contaminate. Be sure to keep raw meat, poultry and seafood securely wrapped. This keeps their juices from contaminating prepared/cooked foods or foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables.

n Organize cooler contents. Consider packing beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another. That way, as picnickers open and reopen the beverage cooler to replenish their drinks, the perishable foods won’t be exposed to warm outdoor air temperatures.

n Clean your produce. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water before packing them in the cooler — including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Rub firm-skinned fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water. Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth towel or paper towel. Keep cold food cold. Place cold food in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. Cold food should be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent bacterial growth. Meat, poultry and seafood may be packed while still frozen so that they stay colder longer.

n Keep cold foods cold and keep hot foods hot. Keeping your food at proper temperatures is critical in preventing the growth of foodborne bacteria. The key is to never let your picnic food remain in the “danger zone” — between 40 degrees and 140 degrees — for more than two hours, or 1 hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90 degrees. This is when bacteria in food can multiply rapidly and lead to foodborne illness. Food safety begins with proper hand cleaning, especially in outdoor settings.

Lastly, before you begin setting out your picnic feast, make sure everyone’s hands and all eating surfaces are clean. If you don’t have access to running water, use a water jug, some soap and paper towels; or consider using moist disposable towelettes for cleaning your hands. Never reuse a plate or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood for serving — unless they’ve been washed first in hot, soapy water. Otherwise, you can spread bacteria from the raw juices to your ready-to-eat food. This is particularly important to remember when serving cooked foods from the grill.

Keep germs at bay by remembering to D-O-C-K them from ruining your summertime plans.

“Your NET Health” focuses upon a variety of health issues that hold importance to your community. If you have questions about this article, or if you have a topic or topics that you want us to cover, then send us an email at ContactUs@netphd.org. We are here to serve you.

Ginger Points is director of the NET Health Environmental Health Department.

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