Summer is the perfect time to get together with family and friends to enjoy the warm weather, good food and cold drinks. And this July 4th, it’s likely that over 80% of Americans—nearly 267 million people—will do just that. They’ll fire up their grills, prep their favorite side dishes and gather in all 50 states to celebrate Independence Day.
But holiday gatherings often translate into an unintended type of giving—the spread of infectious diseases. Each year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 48 million Americans are sickened from a foodborne illness, and of those, over 128,000 are hospitalized. So as you plan your July 4th celebration, here are four tips to help keep everyone healthy.
Cook Meat To The Recommended Internal Temperature
Eating raw or undercooked meat—including chicken, beef and seafood—is a common way to acquire a foodborne illness. Chicken is often contaminated with bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter, both of which can cause a gastrointestinal illness that may last up to one week. Symptoms may include a fever, stomach cramps, diarrhea and nausea/vomiting, which usually begin several days after consuming undercooked chicken. To prevent illness, cook poultry to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
One thing is certain—Americans love burgers and hot dogs. It’s estimated that on July 4th, they’ll consume nearly 375 million hamburgers and 150 million hot dogs. But eating undercooked beef or pork products is a great way to ruin your holiday weekend. Similar to chicken, these meats can be contaminated with Salmonella, but other bacteria—like E. coli, Yersinia and Listeria—can also cause illness. E. coli is found in the gastrointestinal tract of cattle, and meat can become contaminated with the bacteria during the slaughtering process. Symptoms may include a fever, stomach cramps and diarrhea, which may be bloody in the case of E. coli and Yersinia infections. A key step to prevent illness—don’t eat hamburger that is still pink inside. Any ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
Don’t Leave Perishable Foods Out Too Long
One of the best parts of July 4th is the warm temperatures, but this can also spell disaster if precautions aren’t taken to ensure food safety. Bacteria—like E. coli and Salmonella—will replicate rapidly in warmer temperatures, making them more likely to cause a foodborne illness. It’s important to keep salads, egg dishes, cheese, fruits and vegetables cool while serving. And for cooked meats, don’t leave them out for longer than two hours (one hour if the outside temperature is higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit) before refrigerating.
Wash Your Hands, As Well As Fruits And Vegetables
Our hands are one of the most effective modes of transmitting infectious diseases, including bacteria and viruses. Although hand sanitizers may kill some bacteria and certain viruses, there is no substitute for washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This is especially true prior to eating, as well as after using the restroom or handling any raw/uncooked meat, flour or eggs. Norovirus is one of the most common causes of gastrointestinal disease worldwide, causing diarrhea and vomiting that typically last one to two days. It’s highly contagious and is spread through the fecal-oral route, which can result in contamination of food if those preparing or handling food don’t wash their hands after using the restroom. Fruits and vegetables can also harbor a variety of pathogens, including parasites such as Cyclospora and Cryptosporidium. It’s important to wash any raw fruits and vegetables prior to eating them.
If You’re Sick, Stay Home
No one wants to miss the party, but if you’re not feeling well, the best thing to do is stay home and rest. Although foodborne illnesses are common following 4th of July celebrations, there are also a number of respiratory diseases—Covid-19, RSV, human metapneumovirus and enterovirus—that can spread at large gatherings. The early symptoms of these viral infections are often indistinguishable, and can include a cough, fever, sore throat and body aches. These illnesses are usually mild and self-limited, but they can be severe in certain people, such as young children, the elderly and those who are pregnant or have a weakened immune system. So if you’re sick this July 4th, do your part to keep others healthy and enjoy the fireworks display from home.