Summer Food Safety

Heather Reese Health Guide
  • Last week I wrote about how to host a healthy backyard cookout, even more important is how to host a get together that is safe.


    Summer picnics and cookouts are common sources of food poisoning.  Hot summer weather can help food-borne bacteria multiply quickly, spoiling food and causing illness.  Proper food preparation, serving and storing can help you decrease the risk of food poisoning at your summer get together.


    Temperature Danger Zone

    First things first, always keep hot food hot and cold food cold.  Bacteria grow most rapidly in temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.  The maximum time that protein based foods should be kept in this temperature zone is four hours – including preparation time.  A good rule of thumb is to limit the time that food is sitting out at your get together to two hours.  Once it passes that two hour mark there is a good chance that harmful bacteria have begun to grow, so throw it away.

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    Preparing Food

    Before you start to prepare your food, make sure to wash your hands with soap and hot water.  This is the most important guard against food borne illness, and it is often forgotten.  It’s also just as important to wash your hands again if you handle raw meat, poultry, fish or eggs.  And don’t forget to clean any cutting boards, knives or utensils used on raw meat before using them again.


    When preparing fresh salads, be sure to wash your produce in running water.  This helps to remove dirt and grime as well as pesticides used in farming.


    Thaw your foods in the refrigerator, not on the counter, and make sure that they are stored on the bottom shelf.  Juices from the raw meat can drip and if they fall into a ready-to-eat dish, it can cause food poisoning.


    Serving Food

    Always serve your food on clean serving dishes.  This may sound obvious, but many people serve their cooked meat on the same plate that they used to carry it out to the grill.  Never place cooked food on a dish that previously held raw meat unless it has been thoroughly washed.


    Do not leave eggs, mayonnaise or foods that include them as an ingredient at room temperature for extended periods of time. Remember to be cautious of how long your foods have been sitting out in the temperature danger zone.


    Try to keep your food out of direct sunlight and heat.  Coolers and buffet tables are better in the shade, but you should still adhere to a two hour limit for food to be sitting out.


    Storing Food

    Always refrigerate your leftovers promptly.  Bacteria multiply at room temperature, so brining the leftovers into the air conditioning isn’t enough.  Store each food item in a separate container with lids that shut tightly to avoid cross contamination.  And always consume your leftovers within three to five days.


    Food poisoning is serious and can result in illness and even death.  If you have any concern over whether or not a food is safe to eat, remember, when in doubt, throw it out!

Published On: June 27, 2007