Outdoor Food Safety Tips: Avoid Food Poisoning This Summer

Cookouts, barbecues and picnics. Summer doesn’t just welcome in warmer weather. It’s also time to lay out the red, checkered tablecloth and enjoy some great meals in the outdoors with friends and family. It’s also time to refresh yourself on outdoor food safety.

Under the glare of a bright golden sun and a clear sky, everyone has to keep in mind that higher temperatures also mean a higher risk of food poisoning.

Food Safety in the Summertime

In warm weather, food-borne bacteria thrives. Leaving items out such as potato salad or deviled eggs too long could cause someone to become seriously sick and suffer the symptoms of food poisoning. It’s important to know how to store food safely and correctly to keep everyone healthy and happy. Here’s a list of hot weather food safety tips, using guidelines from sources like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Clean Your Hands: The first step to a safe and healthy meal is clean hands. Always wash your hands before and after you handle any food. When you’re eating outdoors you may not be able to use soap and water. Buy a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if you don’t have access to a sink or hose.

Keep Cold Food at 40˚F or Colder: Have lots of ice or gel packs on hand. Cold food should be kept at a temperature of 40˚F or colder and should be refrigerated until serving time. Bacteria on food meant to be chilled can multiply quickly at temperatures higher than 40˚ F. Try putting bowls like potato salad on ice if they will be out for more than two hours.

Keep Hot food at 140˚F or Warmer: Hot food needs to be kept at an internal temperature of 140° F or warmer, according to the FDA.  You can always check the product label to check the correct temperature needed for grilling. Bacteria can multiply quickly on hot food that is not held at this temperature. After grilling, keep hot food warm by moving it to the side of the grill, in the heat, but away from the flames.  At home, you can keep the cooked meat hot by using a 200° F oven, chafing dish, slow cooker, or warming tray.

Have a Thermometer handy: If  you’re cooking food on the grill, use a food thermometer to make sure meat is cooked to its proper temperature.  You can even download the Is My Food Safe? mobile app for a complete list of cooking temperatures for outdoor gatherings.

Don’t add food to dishes, put out new ones: Bacteria spreads from people eating and sharing food buffet style, especially outside in warm temperatures. You want to avoid adding more food to serving dishes that people have already been helping themselves to. Instead, replace nearly-empty serving dishes with freshly-filled plates and bowls of food that haven’t been sitting out in the sun. Also, wash the serving tools as a precaution. This also accommodates guests arriving and/or eating at different times throughout the day.

Don’t put cooked food on a plate that had raw food: Never put cooked food on an unwashed plate  or surface, that previously held raw food. Use separate cutting boards for meats and vegetables, and wash the boards thoroughly after each use. And the same goes for grill tongs. If you are using them to grill raw meat or fish, be sure to switch to new grill tongs to remove the food once it’s cooked.

Remember the 2-Hour Rule:  Any perishable food left out at room temperature for more than two hours needs to be thrown out. Examples of food that must be kept refrigerated for safety include meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and all cooked leftovers. If the room or area temperature is over 90°F, the safe-holding time for food left out is reduced to just one hour.