As the Fourth of July holiday approaches, many Southern Californians might be dusting off their grill and preparing to spend the holiday weekend enjoying picnics at the beach, or barbequing in the backyard. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health would like to remind cooks that combining warm temperatures and the great outdoors could be a recipe for disaster if the food is not properly handled.

“Barbeques or picnics are great opportunities to spend time with family and friends, but proper food handling techniques should be used to make sure the party is not spoiled by illness. Food contains bacteria that could cause food poisoning if the dishes are not properly prepared or cooked,” said Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, director of public health and health officer. “Simple food safety precautions such as washing your hands before and after handling raw food and maintaining correct temperatures during and after cooking will ensure your guests walk away with great memories of a good meal instead of a nasty illness.”

Some common symptoms that may be caused by food-borne illness include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, dehydration and fever. Most of these illnesses are caused by three problems — allowing “cold” foods such as potato salad to get warm or “hot” foods such as casseroles or meatballs to get to room temperature, handling food with contaminated hands, and not cooking foods such as meat or chicken thoroughly.

Before barbequing or preparing food, it is important to always wash hands with hot water and soap, keep marinating food refrigerated, keep raw foods away from cooked food, keep perishable foods in the refrigerator and pre-heat the barbeque before cooking.

The temperature of food should be checked during the cooking process and after cooking food should be placed on clean trays, leftover marinade from raw food should not be used, food should be covered and leftovers refrigerated and eaten within two days.

If you plan to barbecue your dinner, remember that safe grilling doesn’t just mean taking precautions with the food itself. Grilling outside can give your food a delicious, smoky flavor, but it can also cause fires if you aren’t careful.

Visit www.fightbac.org or call (213) 240-8144 for more information.