How to avoid serving up food poisoning to your guests at a summer barbecue
Stay safe and don't let a cooking disaster spoil your fun, warns Liz Connor
Warm weather is an invitation to fire up the garden grill with family and friends, but let's face it - nothing ruins sunny weather like having food poisoning. The common illness, which is caused by bacteria or other toxins hidden in contaminated food, can cause sudden onset nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea, leaving you desperately in search of the nearest bathroom.
The UK suffers over a million cases of food poisoning a year according to the Food Standards Agency, and around 280,000 cases are caused by a bacteria called campylobacter.
While you can be struck down by it at any time of year, cases tend to peak in the summer months as the warmer weather creates the perfect breeding ground for bacteria to multiply.
So how best can you tuck into delicious barbecued food and make the most of the hot weather? Here are a few preventative tips for staying safe in the sun.
Wash your hands
We all know that the first rule of cooking is to wash your hands thoroughly, but how many of us actually do it? Before handling any food, make sure you clean your hands with antibacterial soap and water, and pat them dry with a towel.
Each time you handle raw food - such as meat, fish or eggs - you should always re-wash hands. The same goes for touching the bin, going to the toilet or handling pets.
Give worktops a good wipe
It's not just your hands that need a thorough scrub; the NHS advises wiping any surfaces you plan to use with either antibacterial spray or hot, soapy water, as well as washing knives, chopping boards and other utensils before use.
It's also a good idea to wash your sink thoroughly too, as bacteria can easily be passed from plate to plate.
Use separate chopping boards
One of the easiest ways of spreading the most common food-borne bacteria is through cross-contamination. Avoid poisoning your dinner party by using different chopping boards and knives for preparing raw meats and assembling ready-to-eat dishes like salads.
Keep raw meat separate
NHS advice says it's especially important to keep raw meats, like chicken, pork and beef, away from ready-to-eat foods, such as salad, fruit and veg. This is because these foods won't be cooked before you tuck into them, so any bacteria that manages to find its way on to them won't be killed.
It's wise to have a separate shelf on the fridge for raw meats, preferably at the bottom, where it can't touch or drip onto other foods.
Cook food thoroughly on the barbecue
Food safety begins with the chef, so make sure you know exactly how to cook meats properly before you start throwing them on the coals. Heat kills bacteria, so meat needs to be thoroughly cooked through on the grill.
Turn your meats regularly and check they're ready by cutting into them - they should not be pink in the middle and the juices should run clear. If you're still not sure, you can use a meat probe thermometer to check the temperature of your meat.
It's a good idea to cook chicken in the oven prior to giving it a final grill on your barbecue - you'll still get the smoky flavour, but you'll be safe in the knowledge that it's cooked all the way through.
Cool leftovers quickly
When it comes to hosting a barbecue, it's easy to overestimate your guests' appetites and cook too much food.
If you're left with cooked food that you want to save, the NHS advises cooling it as quickly as possible (within 90 minutes) and storing it in the fridge or freezer. You should also use any leftovers from the fridge within two days.
What to do if you get food poisoning
Although unpleasant, most cases of food poisoning are mild and clear up in a few days. Symptoms to look out for include being sick, diarrhoea, nausea, stomach cramps, a high temperature and feeling fatigued.
The signs usually start between one and three days after eating infected food but, in rare cases, they can strike weeks later.
To treat poisoning, you're advised to drink mostly water in sips to avoid dehydration, and avoid solid foods and dairy products until the symptoms have cleared up. Once you are feeling better, you can ease into eating and drinking again by snacking on bland foods, such as crackers and toast.
Thankfully, you should feel better in a matter of days, with no lingering effects. However, you should make an appointment with your doctor if you have severe diarrhoea that lasts for more than three days, have frequent vomiting that lasts for more than two days or if you see blood in your stool.