Dr. Zorba Paster: Dust off the picnic basket and this list of summer safety tips | Madison.com Health, Sports Health & Fitness

Farma Darya

It’s that time of year when we can go outside and enjoy each other’s company.

Now that COVID-19 has receded, you can meet and greet people and not worry that you’ll die. Now note, I said receded, not gone.

COVID will never, ever be gone. Just like influenza, it’s here to stay. So if you haven’t gotten immunized, or completed your series, or been boosted, now is the time to roll up your sleeve and get jabbed.

It’s good for you. It’s good for your family. It’s good for your friends. It’s good for your community. Public health is a team effort.

So on to summer safety. It’s that time of year for farmers’ markets, outdoor potlucks and, of course, brats on the grill.

With a bit of vigilance, you can make this a wonderful summer you’ll treasure because “nothing bad happened.”

Food safety

Cutting board safety. If you cut meat, chicken or fish, wash the board before you cut your vegetables.

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The bad players here are salmonella and E. coli, which can be found in raw meats. Those bacteria are destroyed when you cook chicken and beef to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Pink chicken is a no-no, but also be sure to trust a thermometer — it’s better than your eyesight. The instant-read thermometers are cheap. Buy one and use it. We worry about mayonnaise, but meat is the real culprit. Nothing ruins a summer cookout like an homage to the porcelain goddess.

Homemade mayonnaise is another story. It’s the bad guy. My mom would use a mayonnaise substitute for her famous 15-bean salad because mayo was made with eggs and she worried about salmonella. The commercial mayo, the stuff you buy in the store, is pasteurized and therefore salmonella free. You can use it in your special dish safely. As for the homemade stuff, it’s a no-no — and who makes that anyway?

Oh, and one more thing — remember to wash those veggies. They may look pristine but some are not.

Grill safety

I remember when I was 8 years old and I picked up a dusty coal from the fire. Boy, oh, boy, was I surprised! Kids love to explore, so put up a barricade of lawn chairs around the grill to keep those youngsters out. It just might save you a trip to your local burn unit. There will be too many kids burned this summer because of a random burning charcoal.

Water safety

With more than 15,000 lakes in Wisconsin, I know someone in our state will have too much to drink, fall out of that boat and drown. And we’ve all seen stories about some young child who drowns because they didn’t know how to swim and someone neglected to make sure their life preserver was on and buckled.

We and our son have a boat. I love sitting in the middle of the lake sipping a cool brew. But too many of those cold ones can mean bad judgment. Be responsible. And if you’re with young kids, you’re setting an example. If you take too many drinks, then when they’re teenagers they may do the same thing. Good parenting is good mentoring.

Life preservers are the seat belts of the waterways. Don’t be lax; they save lives. Most boaters use cushion life preservers because the vest ones are so uncomfortable, but consider the ones that are a belt. They’re easy to snap on and they inflate when they hit the water.

When it comes to children, they should wear the life vest or they shouldn’t be in the boat. And for adult non-swimmers, you might consider making the summer more fun by learning to swim.


Every day in my office, it seems like I see a tick bite. If you’re in the woods, wear long sleeves and lightweight clothing. And use bug spray on your clothes — it’s safer than spraying it on the skin.

If you see a tick on your body, remove the entire critter, head and all, with tweezers. If you take off a bit of skin as well, I’d say you’ve done a good job.

Those tiny deer ticks have to stay on you for at least 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease. So that may mean taking a nighttime shower to look at your entire skin — and, yes, that means your backside too.

If you do find a tick that’s been on for more than 24 hours, then 200 mg of the antibiotic doxycycline can protect you from Lyme disease. If you’re outdoors all the time, gardening, traipsing in the woods or walking the dog in one of our beautiful dog parks, ask your doc for this to have on hand. It’s worth it.

My spin: When it comes to picnicking I always go back to what my daughter Vanessa said to me when she was 8 years old. I was in a funk. I don’t remember why I was in a bad mood, but I was.

Penny was away somewhere, I don’t remember where, but it was only me and our youngest. So I’m spreading out the blanket, clearly not in my good place, when she looked at me and said, “Daddy, there’s no such thing as a bad picnic.”

That was what I call a Golden Moment. When suddenly everything becomes as clear as a bright summer day. Boy, was she right. Have a great safe, happy, golden summer. And stay well.

This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.


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