Summer Food Safety

During the cold winter months, almost everyone looks forward to warmer weather, grilling, and spending quality time with their families over picnic baskets. While there are plenty of opportunities to partake in outdoor fun with friends and relatives, warm weather events such as barbecuing, outdoor concerts, and picnics may also present opportunities for foodborne bacteria to thrive. The increasing temperatures may cause bacteria to more rapidly multiply than it would in colder weather conditions. To protect yourself, friends, and families from illnesses during the summer, it is important to understand and implement safe food handling practices. Several food safety guidelines should be followed for transporting, preparing, and serving the food once an individual has arrived at his or her destination.

It is critical to keep food safe as it travels from the refrigerator or freezer to the picnic table. Pack the food into a cooler with frozen gel packs or ice to store it at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below in order to prevent bacteria from growing. Seafood, poultry, and meat may be packed while frozen so it will stay colder for a longer period. Avoid unnecessarily opening the cooler so that it will remain cold for as long as possible. Before distributing food, all individuals who will be handling the meal should ensure that their hands and surfaces are clean. This includes serving dishes, utensils, trays, and platters. If running water is inaccessible, a water jug may be used in its place.

Much like cooking indoors, several important guidelines should be followed to ensure that the food is safe to consume. Avoid marinating food outdoors or on the kitchen counter; use a refrigerator instead, and do not reuse marinade if you have extra leftover in the container. The food should be thoroughly cooked and checked with a food thermometer. Pork, fish, roasts, and steaks must reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit while egg dishes and ground beef are safest to consume when they are cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Whole poultry and chicken breasts must be cooked until they reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and it is important to cook muscles, lobster, and shrimp until they are opaque and pearly.

Maintaining food at the proper temperatures, indoors and outdoors, is important to prevent the growth of foodborne bacteria. The key is to never let picnic food remain in what is known as the “danger zone,” or between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, for more than two hours. That rule is reduced to just one hour if temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold food should be kept in a cooler at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below until it is ready to be served, and hot food should be stored at or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit in an insulated container.

To prevent cross-contamination when serving, it is critical to never reuse utensils or plates that previously held seafood, poultry, or raw meat for serving unless they have first been washed in soapy, hot water. If one single plate is used for multiple foods without cleaning it, there is the risk of spreading bacteria from the raw juices to the cooked and ready-to-eat meat.