The heat and the interruption of the cold chain cause a proliferation of bacteria in the food, contaminating it.

A salad with an egg.

The vomiting and diarrhea grounded Isabel, her parents, and her brother. Goodbye to the long-awaited holidays in Palma de Mallorca! All because the afternoon before they had celebrated their cousin’s birthday with a “delicious” chocolate cake that someone had left on the kitchen table, outside the refrigerator, for a few hours.

Each and every one of us is susceptible to suffering a food poisoning. Food, summer and poor handling can be responsible for these infections.

Most of the gastrointestinal diseases are caused by bacteria (and / or its toxins) that multiply in food and that, when consumed, can cause health problems. Sometimes mild (vomiting or diarrhea) and other serious that, on occasion, even lead to death.

They are more frequent in summer, since the heat and the interruption of the cold chain favor the growth of bacteria in food and therefore its contamination.

Contaminated vs deteriorated

A contaminated food is one that contains germs capable of causing illness in the people who eat it. A contaminated food is not the same as a spoiled food or altered since when a food is deteriorated its organoleptic qualities, smell, flavor, appearance, are reduced or canceled, being able to be appreciated through the senses (sight, smell, taste, touch) and causing the consumer not to buy it or consume.

The Food contamination, however, is neither noticed nor seen, since microorganisms are not visible to the naked eye as they are microscopic. A contaminated food may seem completely normall. This is why it is a mistake to assume that a good looking food is in good condition for consumption.

Among the bacteria to take into account in the summer highlights Salmonella. All its strains are pathogenic, that is, they can cause us a disease and can be found in foods such as eggs or undercooked meats. Nor should we lose sight of the Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium that grows very well at refrigeration temperature, hence we have to take into account the cleaning of the refrigerator to avoid contamination of vegetables or raw food.

Too Escherichia coli, It can be present in poorly cooked food or in contaminated water that we use to make or wash food that we consume raw.

Without forgetting Staphylococcus aureus, which grows at high temperatures in foods such as pastry creams, sweets or ice cream, and which can appear due to improper handling.

How to avoid contamination?

If we want to avoid food contamination, and therefore an unpleasant disease that makes the summer bitter, we must buy, store, handle, cook and consume food properly.

  1. The purchase

    It is convenient to plan the purchase before leaving home, take into account the meals that are going to be made, check the expiration of the food and the ability to store it at home.

    You have to assess the establishment, order, cleanliness, food storage temperature and, very importantly, once the purchase is finished, return home as soon as possible so as not to break the cold chain.

  2. The storage

    Perishable foods must always be kept at 4ºC to avoid the growth of bacteria. We must keep them in closed containers to prevent contact with each other. Clean the refrigerator very well and, as far as possible, avoid contact of meat and fish with fruits and vegetables or ready-to-eat foods.

    Frozen foods should be kept at -18ºC in closed bags to avoid food contact with air, and they should always be defrosted at 4ºC to prevent microorganisms from multiplying when the temperature rises.

  3. The preparation

    Drinking water should always be used to prepare food, as well as to prepare ice cubes, ice creams or watery drinks.

    The vegetables should be rinsed with plenty of water and the fruit should be peeled or washed well before consuming.

    Food should be cooked at a minimum temperature of 70ºC, in order to ensure that these bacteria are eliminated. Once cooked they should not be left at room temperature. Above all, it is necessary to avoid that they remain between 10ºC and 60ºC, temperatures in which diverse microorganisms grow and multiply very well.

  4. Hygiene in the kitchen

    Finally, one of the main sources of contamination of food is the person who handles it. For this reason, it is advisable to avoid any contact of the hands with the mouth or nose, sneezing, coughing, etc. Hygiene must be maintained at all times in the kitchen, as well as in the utensils, always using potable water for cleaning.

By following these tips we can “enjoy the summer” without any bacteria ruining our vacations.

* This article was originally published on The Conversation.

** María Rosario Lucas is a professor of Microbiology at the University of Jaén. Antonio Gálvez is chair professor at the University of Jaén. María José Grande is an assistant researcher at the University of Jaén. Rubén Pérez is a tenured professor at the University of Jaén.