Grilled hot dogs and hamburgers are often described as the tastes of summer, but if cooked wrong, they can quickly turn into a bad case of food poisoning.
“Warmer weather allows bacteria to grow faster,” Lorraine McIntyre, a food specialist with the BC Centre for Disease Control told Black Press Media. “Every time the temperature goes over 10 C, bacteria have a chance to grow fast.”
Some bacteria can double every 20 minutes when it’s warm out. That means one bacterium can multiply into 33 million bacteria in just eight hours.
Two kinds of bacteria thrive off warmer temperatures: those that cause foods to spoil and those that cause foodborne illness.
According to Health Canada, one in eight people get food poisoning every year from contaminated foods.
“Bacterial foodborne illnesses include toxin-forming E.coli from undercooked hamburger and salmonella and campylobacter from poultry,” McIntyre said.
“If rice or pasta products are left out too long, bacillus cereus sometimes occurs. Eggs and egg containing products can carry salmonella and staphylococcus. Sauces and soups may contain clostridium perfringens.”
Contamination can be caused in a number of ways, she said, from the person preparing the meal to how the meal is cooked.
Particular foods, like meat, are more susceptible to contamination when cooking outdoors.
“When talking about temperature issues, how fast you cool something down is important,” McIntyre said. “If you prepare food and don’t eat everything right away, refrigerate or cool it within six hours to 4C or as cold as you can get it. On a camping trip, ice slurries work best to cool food down.”
McIntyre said a common misconception is that boiling or cooking destroys all bacteria.
“Bean or rice dishes and pasta salads that are left too long at warm temperatures may also spoil or, worse, cause foodborne illness,” she said. “This is caused from bacteria that form spores. If the food is stored too long at warm temperatures, they can grow and form a toxin that can make you ill.”
If heading out on a camping trip, McIntyre suggested looking to pickled products, which include vinegar and acids that stop bacteria growth.
Keeping meats separate from fresh foods, especially vegetables and fruits, is also important to avoid cross-contamination.
And when cleaning the dishes, keep the dirty water as far away as possible from where food is stored and prepared.
“To keep flies and other pests away, move away from your site, dig a little hole and pour the used water in the hole and cover it up with dirt.”