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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

A few simple measures to keep in mind in the summer and during hot weather

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News of 04/07/2013

Summertime, which is synonymous with sunshine, heat and holidays, is finally drawing near. As part of France's national heatwave response plan, the Agency issues a reminder of some good habits to adopt in hot weather and a few useful precautions to help you have a safe and pleasant summer.

Ensure you do not break the cold chain

Storing foods at cold temperatures slows the growth of micro-organisms, thereby limiting food poisoning while preserving food's nutritional qualities and good taste. The effectiveness of the cold chain depends on proper refrigeration temperatures, as well as on maintaining foods at a continuously cold level. In periods of prolonged hot weather, it is important to be especially careful to maintain the cold chain. Adopt suitable methods for transporting and storing foodstuffs from the place of purchase up through consumption (use insulated cooler bags, buy the most perishable products and frozen foods last when shopping, verify the temperature of your refrigerator, comply with use-by dates, etc.). 

Modify your eating habits 

During heatwaves, there is a greater risk of dehydration. Therefore, certain recommendations, valid throughout the year, take on increased importance. Drink fluids regularly and do not wait to feel thirsty. Avoid alcoholic beverages, which promote dehydration, as well as drinks with a high sugar or caffeine content, as these have a diuretic effect. Don't forget to eat foods with a high water content, such as fruits, vegetables and dairy products, etc. 
Manual labourers, especially those who work out-of-doors, and people who perform sports activities out-of-doors are also at high risk for dehydration when the weather is hot. It is therefore essential for these individuals get sufficient amounts of water to make up for water losses, and for them to protect themselves from the heat as much as possible.

In hot weather, it is especially important to attend to the needs of people over 65 years of age, as well as infants and young children (under 3 years of age), since these groups are particularly sensitive to the risks of dehydration and heat stroke when the ambient temperature is high. Special recommendations for people in these categories should be applied.

As concerns the elderly, it is recommended for them to drink the equivalent of at least 8 glasses of water a day (800 mL), the ideal amount being 13 to 14 glasses a day. If you don't like plain water, you car vary your liquid intake by drinking water with flavoured syrups added, iced tea, chilled soups, and consuming foods with high water content (watermelon, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, sorbet, yoghurt, etc.).

Young children should be offered chilled water regularly, every hour at the least during the day and also when they wake up during the night. It should be administered in a baby bottle or a glass, depending on their age, without waiting for them to express thirst. If they are old enough to eat a diversified diet, provide them with water-rich foods (fresh fruits and vegetables, fruit compotes, dairy products, etc.) 

Stay cool 

In hot weather, keep windows, shutters and blinds closed during the sunny hours and air rooms at night. Avoid using electrical devices (lighting, halogens, TVs, computers, etc.) so as to limit sources of additional indoor heat. Spend a few hours every day in naturally cool buildings (basements, historical places of worship, etc.) or places equipped with air conditioning systems (malls, cinemas, etc.), whenever possible.  

Don't forget sun protection 

While the sun does have beneficial effects on health, by enabling the body to synthesise vitamin D, it also has harmful short-term effects, including the well-known "sunburn" phenomenon. The long-term harmful effects include premature skin ageing and the risk of developing skin cancer, depending on skin type, which is linked to UV rays. It is therefore essential to protect oneself before sun exposure by wearing suitable clothing, a hat and sunglasses, by avoiding sun exposure between noon and 4 pm and by regular hourly application of sun block. Children are more sensitive to the sun, and must therefore receive more protection!  

Also, over the last several years, numerous "solar" food supplements have become available on the market. These products promise to "prepare the skin for exposure to the sun", "protect the skin from ageing", and "prepare, activate and prolong tanning". To date, their effectiveness has not been proven, so do use them with caution! 

Barbecues: not too hot! 

Traditionally, the arrival of warm weather goes hand in hand with outdoor barbecues. But caution should prevail, since cooking foods at high temperatures, especially in direct contact with flames, can lead to the formation of chemical compounds on their surface, some of which have carcinogenic properties. So in order to enjoy barbecued foods while avoiding the formation of these harmful substances, several precautions should be taken: remember to adjust the cooking height so the rack is at least 10 cm from the embers, use refined charcoal, never use firelighter products to rekindle the fire, avoid drops of fat falling into the fire, and clean your barbecue and its racks regularly. 

Remember to protect your pets too 

When temperatures rise, your pets also suffer and can become dehydrated. They too deserve special attention from you. The same advice as for humans should be applied to them, especially making sure they always have drinking water available. If they are following a veterinary treatment, vigilance is called for since many factors, including light and heat, can affect medication by altering its effectiveness, causing adverse effects or heightening toxicity. Therefore, during heatwaves certain recommendations which are valid all year round take on increased importance: keep veterinary medicines away from light and heat, avoid changes in temperature and store vaccines in the refrigerator.