We’ve all had those awkward moments when we aren’t sure whether to offend the cook or risk spending several days sick in bed. Say you’re at a summer picnic and Aunt Barbara asks you to try her famous deviled eggs—from a plate that’s been sitting in the hot sun. You love Aunt Barb, but the eggs are looking awfully crusty.
What’s a gracious guest to do? You might consider slipping your egg to the dog under the picnic table when nobody is looking. But food safety doesn’t always have a clear-cut answer. I have two very smart friends with two very different approaches to the backyard barbecue. One, trained as a chef but now in nutrition academia, will gladly sink her teeth into a juicy burger, as long as she knows that the meat came from a reputable, local farmer. The other, an internationally renowned food microbiologist, steers her children far away from the hamburgers sizzling on the grill. In fact, the only place she lets her kids eat hamburgers is at fast-food restaurants. What gives?
As someone who once carried a thermometer in her lab coat to check the temperature of patients’ food and insists on a well-done burger at backyard barbecues, I am only too aware of the risks that foodborne pathogens present. An estimated 48 million Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses every year. But I love to eat, so I follow a few rules that have become as routine as putting on a seat belt, and it doesn’t hamper my food enjoyment in the least.