Protect Yourself From Foodborne Illness

Boy eating corn

Outdoor events, such as fairs and festivals, are packed with fun activities for the entire family, and of course the main attraction is the variety of foods and beverages.


Have you ever considered that you may be at risk of developing a foodborne illness at an outdoor event?


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Do you know how to protect yourself from getting a foodborne illness?


Do not put food safety on the back burner while enjoying outdoor events. Foodborne illnesses are caused by consuming foods and beverages contaminated with bacteria, viruses or parasites. More foodborne illnesses are reported during the summer because more people are cooking and eating outside.


Indoor kitchens provides safety controls, such as temperature controlled cooking, refrigeration, running water and supplies for cleaning, however when cooking or dining outdoors these controls may not be available.


Common Foods and Beverages Known to Cause Illness


Common foods and beverages linked to foodborne illnesses include:

  • Raw foods of the animal origin, such as raw meat and poultry
  • Raw eggs
  • Unpasteurized milk
  • Raw shellfish

Be aware that raw eggs may be used in homemade hollandaise sauce, Caesar and other salad dressings, tiramisu, homemade ice cream, homemade mayonnaise, cookie dough, and frostings.


There have been illnesses traced back to fresh fruits and vegetables processed under unsanitary conditions. Unpasteurized fruit juice can also be contaminated if there are pathogens in or on the fruit that is used to make it.


Those at Greatest Risk for Foodborne Illness


Symptoms of a foodborne illness may resemble the intestinal flu and may last a few hours or even several days after eating the contaminated product. Those at greater risk for foodborne illnesses include:

  • Children
  • Pregnant women
  • Older adults
  • Individuals with compromised immune systems

If you feel that you have contracted a foodborne illness be sure to contact your local health department.


Tips for Preventing Foodborne Illness


Prevent foodborne illnesses at outdoor events by following a few simple rules.


Before buying foods and beverages from an outdoor vendor:

  • Look around their workstation. Is it clean and organized or is it dirty and infested with insects?
  • Are the employees wearing gloves and using tongs when handling food?
  • Is there a sink where employees can wash their hands?
  • Is there a refrigerator for raw ingredients or pre-cooked foods?
  • Are food condiments offered for customer self-service protected from contamination?
  • There should be no raw or undercooked foods being cut, chopped, or ground at an outdoor temporary food stand.
  • All raw animal foods cooked onsite must be fully cooked. Rare, medium-rare meats/poultry/seafood or undercooked eggs are not allowed. Raw sushi processed in a commercial facility may be served as long as no cutting, chopping, or grinding of sushi is done at the outdoor stand.
  • Does the vendor have a license to sell food and beverages? In the state of Wisconsin many of the same code requirements for restaurants apply to food vendors at fairs and festivals. It is acceptable to ask vendors for proof of licensure and inspection.

Other Precautions


Other precautions to take include:

  • Inspect the food before taking a bite
    • Make sure foods are not undercooked or raw.
    • Make sure cold food is cold and hot food is hot. Remember the danger zone is between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F.
    • If the product has an unappealing odor or taste -- do not eat it
  • Wash your hands as often as possible
    • Always wash your hands after petting animals, using the restroom, playing games, riding rides, and before eating or drinking
    • Know where the hand washing stations are located and be sure to use them as often as needed
    • Always bring hand sanitizer and/or disposable wipes!
  • Clean table top surfaces
  • Birds, animals, and insects may have just visited the picnic table that you may be about to eat on; therefore be sure to wipe down surfaces with cleaner or sanitizer. As a backup, always bring along disposable wipes.

For additional information on food safety visit the following websites:

UW Health's Registered Dietitians provide accurate, evidence-based nutrition information that promotes health and wellness to empower individuals to make healthy lifestyle changes that will enhance their health. Recommendations may vary based on your individual health history. For a personalized nutrition plan contact UW Health to schedule an appointment with a Registered Dietitian. For more nutrition information, visit the Nutrition and Health Library.