Four ways to keep food safety on the table during picnic season

picnic basket


There’s more than one FBI that you don’t want to mess with.

We’re talking food-borne illnesses, and Leo Njongmeta, senior biological safety specialist in the Environmental Health and Safety Office, has summer food safety tips to help avoid them.

“FBI is a big public health concern,” he said. Every year it sickens about 48 million Americans — 1 in 6 — in addition to putting 128,000 people in the hospital and causing about 3,000 deaths.

“FBIs peak in summer because the humid and warmer weather (between 90 and 110 degrees) promote the rapid growth of harmful bacteria that cause food spoilage,” Njongmeta said.

Symptoms of a foodborne illness may begin as soon as an hour of consuming the bad food. “These include abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and even paralysis in extreme cases,” Njongmeta said.

His office is responsible for food safety on campus. He and assistant Hwang Changhwa make food sanitation inspections of restaurants, cafeterias and dining services. They also monitor food events such as Taste of UIC and BaconFest to ensure that food is prepared, stored and served at the right temperature and in clean conditions.

Here are some of Njongmeta’s tips to avoid an FBI raid at your picnic:

Picnic (F)


  • Buy cold food like meat and poultry last when you’re shopping.
  • Separate raw meat and poultry from other food in your shopping cart.


Food prep

  • Wash your hands before handling food (of course!).
  • Use a clean cutting board. Never place cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that previously held raw food.



  • You can’t tell if a hamburger is done by looking — one of every four burgers turns brown before it reaches a safe internal temperature.
  • Cook food at the right temperature: pork, beef, fish and other meats, 145 degrees; ground beef, 160 degrees; egg dishes, 160 degrees; turkey, chicken and other poultry, 165 degrees.



  • Keep marinated food in the fridge, not on the counter.
  • Keep cold food cold (41 degrees) and hot food hot (141 degrees).
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within 2 hours.



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