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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

Good habits for hot weather

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News of 29/06/2012

29 June 2012

Summer has arrived, and with it sunshine, holidays and heat... In the context of France's national heatwave plan, the Agency helped draft a document itemising good habits to adopt in periods of hot weather. Here is a reminder of those recommendations and some useful precautions so you can spend a carefree summer.

Ensure you do not break the cold chain

Keeping foods cold slows the growth of microorganisms, thereby limiting the occurrence of food poisoning while preserving food's nutritional qualities and good taste. The effectiveness of the cold chain doesn't depend on the refrigerator's temperature alone, but also on maintaining a stable cold temperature. In periods of prolonged hot weather, it is important to be especially careful not to break the cold chain. Employ 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 encourage 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, dairy products, etc. In hot weather, it is especially important to attend to the needs of people over 65 years of age, as well as to 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. Manual labourers, especially those who work out-of-doors, and people who perform sporting activities in the open air are also at high risk of dehydration when the weather is hot.

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 the number of sources of additional indoor heat. If possible, spend a few hours every day in naturally cool buildings (home basements, old churches, etc.) or in places equipped with air conditioning systems (malls, cinemas, etc.).

Don't forget sun protection

While the sun does have beneficial effects for 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 exposure to UV rays. It is therefore essentiel to protect oneseld before sun exposure by wearing suitable clothing, a hat and sunglasses, by avoiding sun exposure between noon and 4 pm and by applying sun block regularly every hour. Children are more sensitive to the sun, and must therefore receive more protection! 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 effectivenes has not been proven. So be prudent, since there is currently nothing that can replace solar protection!

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 take advantage of this cooking method while minimising the creation of these substances, the following advice should be followed: 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 they can become dehydrated. They deserve special attention from you. The same advice as for humans can 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 medications, altering their effectiveness, causing adverse effects or heightening their toxicity. Therefore, in very hot weather certain recommendations which are valid throughout the year become increasingly important: store veterinary medicines away from light and heat, avoid changes in temperature and keep vaccines in the refrigerator.

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