Children, the elderly and pregnant women are at a higher risk of suffering food poisoning if various meats and raw chicken are not fully cooked thoroughly when barbecuing, a leading food expert is warning.
As the sizzling weather is set to continue over the bank holiday weekend there is no doubt that cookouts are planned nationwide.
However, Safefood, the public body responsible for raising consumer awareness on issues relating to food safety and healthy eating, is warning about the pitfalls to be aware of when cranking the BBQ up.
Dr Linda Gordon, Chief Specialist in food safety with Safefood explained that their “long-standing advice is foods like burgers, sausages and kebabs – basically any meat that has been minced or skewered and raw chicken needs to be cooked all the way through to be safe”.
Dr Gordon said: “It’s the thorough cooking of these foods that kills the bacteria. Some people are especially vulnerable to food poisoning if their immune system is not as effective – these include the very young or elderly, and those who are sick or pregnant.
“For a healthy adult, the chance of getting sick depends on what kind of bacteria, and how many of them, are present in the food.
“In these cases, lower numbers of bacteria may be enough to cause illness. That’s why it’s really important to follow the advice when you’re preparing, handling and cooking raw meat and poultry, especially on the BBQ.”
She pointed out that the chance for a healthy adult getting sick depends on what kind of bacteria, and how many of them, are present in the food such as listeria, salmonella, e-coli and campylobacter. The easiest way to check these foods are safely cooked is by using a meat thermometer.
“This takes all the guesswork out of it. Just take the meat or chicken off the heat and stick a thermometer in the thickest part. If the temperature reads 75 degrees then it’s cooked properly. The thickest part is usually the centre of a burger or sausage. For something like a whole chicken, it’s the thickest part which is between the breast and the leg.
“If you don’t have a meat thermometer, no problem – you know they’re properly cooked when the juices run clear, the meat is piping hot when you cut into it and there’s no pink meat remaining,” noted Dr Gordon.
For foods like beef steaks, whole joints of beef or lamb including lamb chops, these can be continued to be cooked to preference.
Unfortunately, Dr Gordon there is very little you can do to stop food poisoning once contaminated food has been eaten and it is why prevention is the most effective way to stay healthy.
She advised: “If a person does get food poisoning, you lose an enormous amount of fluids so be sure to drink plenty of fluids. Frequent sips of water, apple juice, or an isotonic energy drink with electrolytes would be needed. A doctor should be contacted as soon as possible.
“If an individual suspects they are sick because of food which was bought and eaten, the incident should be reported to the local environmental health officer. This can help prevent wider food poisoning outbreaks in the community.”
Safefood are highlighting that colour alone is not a reliable indicator of meat or poultry being fully cooked and this is because the colour of cooked meat can depend on several factors, such as the feed of the animal, its pH and fat content and the freezing and thawing methods of the meat. The recent trend to order burgers cooked rare or pink in the middle increases the risk of food poisoning.
Dr Gordon warned: “We also know that people often prepare or buy burgers and other BBQ meats with lots of added coloured spices etc and this may make it difficult to judge whether the meat is fully cooked.
“There was also a recent trend to order burgers cooked rare or pink in the middle. The risk of food poisoning increases when raw meat is not cooked sufficiently to kill harmful bacteria like E.coli and Salmonella.”
Safefood wants the public to remember that given the right conditions such as warm weather, moisture and time, bacteria can easily grow on food and multiply very quickly.
If food is either not properly stored, handled or thoroughly cooked food poisoning can occur.
They advise that hands should always be washed before and after handling and eating food, after visiting the toilet or playing with pets or animals.
Ensure that food is thoroughly cooked in order to destroy any harmful bacteria that might be present. Perishable foods should be kept cool in order to prevent harmful bacteria from growing. Fridges need to be kept at the correct temperature of 5 degrees or below.
If a picnic is planned, foods such as prepared salads, cold meats, quiches, coleslaw, potato salad, and dairy products should be kept in a coolbox until needed. Food should be kept in a fridge until use.
Dr Gordon advised that any food which has warmed up should not be eaten if not used immediately.
“Preventing cross-contamination [is very important]. Separate raw and cooked foods during storage and cooking and never let raw food, for example raw meat, come into contact with food that is ready-to-eat,” she concluded