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Health Update: Summer Food Safety

Health Update:  Summer Food Safety

Picnic and barbecue season offers many prospects for outdoor fun with family and friends. But these warm weather events also present a multitude of opportunities for foodborne bacteria to thrive. As food heats up in summer temperatures, bacteria multiply swiftly, presenting some serious challenges to keeping your food safe and free from harmful pathogens.

Food safety starts with proper hand cleaning including in outdoor settings. If you don’t have access to running water, use a water jug, some soap, and paper towels. Or, consider using moist disposable towelettes for cleaning your hands. Make certain you keep all utensils and platters clean when preparing food. Maintaining food at proper temperatures both indoors and outside is crucial in averting the growth of foodborne bacteria. The key is to never let your picnic food remain in the “Danger Zone”- between 41°F and 135 °F for more than 4 hours, or 1 hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90 °F. This is when bacteria in food can multiply rapidly, and lead to foodborne illness.

Cold food should be stored at 41 °F or below to inhibit bacterial growth. Place cold food in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. Meat, poultry, and seafood can be packed while still frozen so that they stay colder for an extended period of time. Wisely organize the contents of your cooler and think about packing beverages in one cooler and perishable food in another. Limit the number of times the cooler is opened to assist in maintaining the temperature inside. Be sure to keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood securely wrapped in order to keep their juices from contaminating prepared/cooked foods or foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water before packing them in the cooler.

Safe cooking temperature and picnicking regularly go hand-in-hand. Similarly as cooking indoors, there are essential guidelines that should be followed to ensure that your grilled food reaches the table safely.

  • Marinate foods in the refrigerator never on the kitchen counter or outdoors. Furthermore, if you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion separately before adding the raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
  • Cook immediately after “partial cooking.” Partial cooking before grilling is only safe when the partially cooked food can go on the hot grill immediately.
  • Cook food thoroughly. Have your food thermometer standing by and always use it to be sure your food is cooked to a safe temperature.
  • Keep “ready” food hot. Grilled food can be kept hot until served by moving it to the side of the grill rack, just away from the coals. This keeps it warm but prevents overcooking.
  • Check for foreign objects in food. If you clean your grill using a bristle brush, inspect it to make sure that no detached bristles have made their way into grilled food.

Prevent cross-contamination when serving, under no circumstances reuse a plate or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood for serving unless they’ve been initially washed in hot, soapy water. Otherwise, you can spread bacteria from the raw juices to your cooked or ready-to-eat food.

Keep in mind the 4 basic principles of food safety: Clean, Cook, Separate, Cool


  • Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets.
  • Wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item.
  • Consider using paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, launder them often in the hot cycle.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Scrub firm produce with a clean produce brush.
  • With canned goods, remember to clean lids before opening.


  • Using a food thermometer is the only way to ensure the safety of meat, poultry, seafood, and egg products for all cooking methods. Color and texture are undependable indicators of safety. These foods must be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy any dangerous bacteria.
  • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. Only use recipes in which eggs are cooked or heated completely.
  • When cooking in a microwave oven, cover food, stir, and rotate for even cooking. Always allow standing time, which completes the cooking, before checking the internal temperature with a food thermometer.
  • Bring sauces, soups and gravy to a boil when reheating.


  • Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods in your shopping cart, grocery bags, and refrigerator.
  • Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs unless the plate has been washed in hot, soapy water.


  • Use an appliance thermometer to be sure the temperature is consistently 41° F or below and the freezer temperature is 0° F or below.
  • Refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, and other perishables within 4 hours of cooking or purchasing. Refrigerate within 1 hour if the temperature outside is above 90° F.
  • Under no circumstances thaw food at room temperature, such as on the counter top. There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, under running cold water, and in the microwave. Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
  • Always marinate food in the refrigerator.
  • Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.

Every summer millions of us are eagerly looking forward to firing up the grill at family backyard BBQs, picnics, and tailgates. Safe food handling when eating outdoors during warm-weather months, is critical in keeping food poisoning off the menu and protecting yourself and those around you from foodborne illness.