Barbecue season is now well under way, providing the perfect excuse to get together with family and friends, relax in the sunshine and enjoy the lighter evenings.
But one thing that’s guaranteed to spoil the party is a nasty bout of food poisoning. That’s why the NHS in North Norfolk is encouraging people to take extra care when cooking and preparing food with some essential advice for barbecue safety.
More than 500,0001 cases of food poisoning occur each year in the UK, and it is particularly common during the summer months.
Food poisoning is caused by eating food contaminated with bacteria, such as salmonella or E. coli, or viruses like norovirus. Salmonella is the biggest cause of food poisoning-related hospital admissions.
Food poisoning is usually mild, and most people get better within a few days without treatment but there are times when it can be more severe, in the most serious cases resulting in a hospital stay, so it’s important to take the risks seriously. Children, older people, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to food poisoning.
To make sure nothing spoils your enjoyment of the barbecue season, be sure to follow our top tips to stay safe and avoid food poisoning.
Good hand hygiene
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before preparing food, after touching raw meat and before serving and eating.
Unless the cooking instructions say otherwise, always ensure that frozen food is fully defrosted before putting it on the barbecue so that it cooks evenly.
Preparing to cook
If using a charcoal barbecue, make sure the coals are glowing red with a powdery grey surface before you start cooking, as this means that they’re hot enough. Remember that it will take longer to cook your food if you are using a disposable barbecue.
Raw and cooked meats should always be kept separate from each other, as well as uncooked meat, fish and vegetables during preparation.
Most types of meat – including sausages, burgers and chicken – are only safe to eat when the meat is steaming hot throughout, there is no pink meat visible when you cut into the thickest part, and any juices run clear. The safest option is to fully cook your food in the oven and then put the cooked food on the barbecue for a short time to let the flavour develop.
When the weather is warm, avoid eating any food which has been left outside for more than an hour.
Most cases of food poisoning can be treated at home using over-the-counter medicines, rest and plenty of liquids to keep hydrated. If you are worried about your symptoms and need advice, talk to your local pharmacy.
If you have severe vomiting and / or diarrhoea call NHS 111 – available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – for advice on the best course of action.
For more information on barbecue food safety, visit www.nhs.uk.