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French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety

Recommendations for a happy, healthy and safe summer

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News of 27/06/2014

Summer sun and hot weather are on the way. And so as part of the national heat wave plan, the Agency is once again issuing its recommendations for hot weather so that you can have a happy, healthy and safe summer. Protect yourself from the sun, drink plenty of liquids, modify your eating habits, and be especially careful if you or someone close to you is in a susceptible population group. And don't forget your pets, since they also risk dehydration when the weather is hot.

Stay out of the sun and protect yourself

While the sun does have beneficial effects on health by enabling the body to synthesise vitamin D, it also can have harmful short-term effects ("sunburn"), as well as serious long-term ones. In fact, overexposure to ultraviolet rays, either from natural or artificial sources, is a major risk factor in the development of skin cancer. When performing outdoor activities, it is therefore essential to protect yourself with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Avoid exposure between noon and 4 pm, and every hour remember to re-apply sunblock. And take extra precautions with children. Since their skin is more sensitive to the sun than adults, they need even more protection! 

In hot weather, keep your windows, shutters and blinds closed during the sunny daylight hours and air your rooms at night. Avoid using electrical devices (lighting, halogens, TVs, computers, etc.) so as to limit additional sources of indoor heat. Modify your activities according to the weather: spend a few hours in naturally cool places such as basements, historical monuments, etc. or if possible, spend time in air conditioned building such as malls, museums, cinemas, etc.

Modify your eating habits, drink lots of liquids and take special care of people in susceptible population groups

In a heat wave, the risk of dehydration is higher. For this reason, it is recommended that you drink often, without waiting until you become thirsty. Avoid alcoholic beverages, which cause dehydration, as well as beverages with a high sugar or caffeine content, which have a diuretic effect. Remember to eat foods with a high water content, especially fruits and vegetables.

During hot weather, elderly people (over 65), infants and young children (under 3) should be monitored carefully, since they are especially vulnerable to the risks or dehydration and heat stroke when temperatures are high.

IIt is recommended, for example, that the elderly drink the equivalent of at least 8 glasses of water a day (800 mL), the ideal amount being 13-14 glasses a day. You can vary your liquid intake by drinking water flavoured with syrups, iced tea and chilled soups. Also eat foods with a high water content (watermelon, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, sorbets and ices, yoghurt, etc.).

Offer beverages to children often, at least once every hour during the day, and when they wake up during the night. Give them cool water, in a baby bottle or a glass depending on their age, before they 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.).

People who work or who perform sports activities out-of-doors are also at an especially high risk for dehydration when the weather is hot. It is therefore essential for these individuals to counter the high water losses they are subject to through a sufficient intake of water and minerals, and also for them to protect themselves from the heat as much as possible.

Be careful not to 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 doesn't depend on the refrigerator's temperature alone, but also on maintaining a stable cold temperature. When hot weather arrives, be especially vigilant and adopt safe 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, monitor the temperature of your refrigerator, comply with use-by dates, etc.

Your pets can also suffer from the heat, so protect them too

When the weather gets hot, pets can also become dehydrated. They too deserve special attention from you. Be sure that they always have enough water to drink and that they can find shade. Never leave pets in parked vehicles and during long car rides plan stops and provide them with water regularly. 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 heat waves 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.

Picnics and barbecues: eating without risk

Summer is the time for outdoor eating and barbecues. Each year, ANSES observes a resurgence of food poisoning cases in the summer period. Hygiene practices linked to outdoor eating during picnics and barbecues are suspected to be a cause. Here is some advice by ANSES which should be followed:

  • Store meat in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
  • Wash and dry your hands before and after handling raw meat.
  • Use one cutting board exclusively for cutting raw meat and another board for other foods, in order to avoid transferring micro-organisms from the raw meat other foods (raw salad ingredients, for example).
  • Eat meat well cooked.
  • Never reuse the same platters or utensils that you use for cutting or carrying raw meat to serve the meat once it has been cooked.
  • Never leave foods out for over two hours at room temperature before putting it in the refrigerator and do not save perishable picnic leftovers.
  • Clean your barbecue and its racks regularly.

In addition, 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 may be carcinogenic. So in order to reduce the formation of these 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, and avoid drops of fat falling into the fire.