RICHMOND—Nearly 48 million cases of foodborne illness occur each year in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and many of those occur during the summer. Foodborne illnesses increase during the summer because of natural causes and the increase in outside activities, said Pam Miles, a food safety expert at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. 'Bacteria are present throughout the environment in the soil, air and water and in the bodies of people and animals,' Miles said. 'These microorganisms grow faster in the warm summer months. Most foodborne bacteria grow fastest at temperatures from 90 to 110 F. Bacteria also need moisture to flourish, and summer weather is often hot and humid.' More people are cooking outside, where safety controls that a kitchen provides—thermostat-controlled cooking, refrigeration and washing facilities—are not available. It is important to wash your hands with warm, soapy water and clean cooking surfaces often. Wet, disposable washcloths or wipes and paper towels also can be used for cleaning hands and surfaces. When packing a cooler, wrap raw meats securely. Do not allow raw meat juices to come in contact with ready-to-eat food. Wash or sanitize plates, utensils and cutting boards that held raw meat or poultry before using again for cooked food. Use a food thermometer to make sure food is thoroughly cooked. Cook meat completely at the picnic site; partial cooking of food ahead of time allows bacteria to survive and multiply to the point that subsequent cooking cannot destroy them. To find out proper cooking temperatures, visit www.fsis.usda.gov/education . Perishable items such as luncheon meats, cooked meats, chicken and potato or pasta salads should be kept in an insulated cooler packed with several inches of ice, ice packs or containers of frozen water. Contact Elaine Lidholm, VDACS communications director, at 804-786-7686.