Taking extra precautions to protect yourself from foodborne illness is especially important during hot, summer months. Food poisoning cases spike in the summer, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA. “Bacteria breeds faster in warm temperatures,” explains Ben Chapman, PhD, an assistant professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. “There’s a greater risk for contamination when you prep and eat food outside.”

People with autoimmune forms of arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis, are especially vulnerable. These diseases, as well as certain drugs prescribed for them, weaken the immune system and increase the risk of infection – including infection by bacteria such as Salmonella, a common culprit behind food poisoning.

What’s more,  “A weakened immune system increases the risk for severe cases [of food poisoining] and complications, like dehydration,” explains Rob Danoff, DO, the program director for the family practice/emergency medicine residency programs at Aria Health in Philadelphia.

Even if you don’t have a compromised immune system, in rare cases food poisoning can set off a condition called reactive arthritis – which can last anywhere from a few weeks to multiple years and causes rashes, swollen eyes and/or aching joints.

Learn these smart ways to keep yourself safe this summer – and what to do in case you get food poisoning.

Keep it cool. Put away food after two hours at room temperature or one hour if it’s hotter than 90ºF. “Use ice packs and a smaller cooler, so there’s less room for air to circulate,” suggests Chapman, who also recommends keeping drinks in a separate container. “Also store the cooler in the shade, or in your air-conditioned car instead of the trunk,” he says.

Avoid cross-contamination. Bacteria can spread on surfaces, so use separate utensils and plates for raw and cooked meats. “Avoid using the meat marinade as a finishing sauce,” says Shelley Feist, the executive director for the Partnership for Food Safety Education, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit. “And wash your hands after handling raw products.” Also reach for single-use paper napkins instead of a dishtowel to mop up spills and wipe your hands.