What’s in Your Food?

Learn how to protect your family from bacterial and E. coli infection in the summer months.

By: Kimberly Johnson

What are your plans this summer? For many Canadians the warmer months are a time filled with weekend picnics, days out at the beach and backyard barbeques. Unfortunately, the warmer months also bring with it an inviting growing space for bacteria to multiply in raw meat left at room temperature or warmer. E. coli in particular can also grow on our fruits and vegetables and effect water supply.

E. coli infections can have serious health implications for children, the elderly and people living with kidney disease. In some people, E. coli infections can lead to Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a leading cause behind acute kidney failure in children. If left untreated, HUS can lead to serious illness and death in people with weaker immune systems.   

While the summer can be a great time to get outdoors, it is important to take some precautions to help keep you and your family safe. Here are four easy tips to help you protect your loved ones from foodborne illness this summer.  

1.       Keep It Cold

The rise in temperature can bring with it a rise in foodborne illness brought on by the growth of bacteria and other pathogens. To prevent this, consider keeping your meat products (beef, chicken, pork and/or fish) in the cold at all times.

When going out for a barbeque or a day out at the beach, consider bringing a cooler. If meat is left out at room temperature or warmer for more than two hours it will be unsafe to eat. This is especially true for ground meat. If left at room temperature, E. coli bacteria multiplies faster on ground meat than on any other type of meat.

2.       Watch Your Temperatures

When barbequing burgers or hot dogs use thermometers to make sure that meat is thoroughly cooked. Meat is safe to eat when it is at an internal temperature of 71 degrees Celsius.

 Additionally, pack a cooler filled with ice to maintain a cooler temperature when outdoors. Coolers warm quickly when ice melts in a partially filled freezer. Even if you are not carrying a lot of meat, fill the container with as much ice and as many freezer packs as possible to maintain the colder temperature for a longer period of time.

3.       Separate Your Food

When buying meat, make sure that the package is clean and dry. Store meat in grocery provided meat bags and keep away from children. Raw meat should be kept separate from cooked meat. In a cooler, store any fish, chicken, beef or pork in separate packages to reduce risk of contamination.  Similarly, keep raw vegetables and meat in separate packages.

4.       Keep Cookware Clean

When cooking outdoors prevent bacterial contamination by using clean cookware and barbecue utensils.  To prevent bacteria transfer, use separate tongs for raw and cooked meat and if needed, separate cutting boards. It is also best to keep cooked and raw meat in separate containers. Clean any grills before adding new meat or vegetables to prevent bacterial transfer.


Simple precautionary steps like this can help you and your family stay safe outside this summer. For more information on E. coli food safety please see this food safey fact sheet.

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