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8 Steps to Safer Summer Foods

Warm weather brings BBQ’s, picnics, cookouts, and other outdoor events involving alfresco dining. It also brings bacteria, which tends to multiply faster as the mercury rises, which presents a food safety challenge. Bacteria in food multiplies fastest between the temperatures of 40F and 140F and when bacteria overwhelms food, it can cause food-borne illness. In order to keep bacteria at bay, here’s a quick rundown of some food safety tips to keep in mind this summer.


Food Safety in the Summer

1. Wash Your Hands
Wash your hands well and often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the restroom and before handling food (either cooking or eating!) If you’re in an outdoor setting with limited restroom facilities, consider bringing disposable towelettes and/or hand sanitizer with you.


2. Defrost Safely
Do not leave food out on a counter for multiple hours to thaw. Use one of the four following methods to properly defrost frozen foods:

  • Thaw food in the refrigerator at a temperature at or below 40F. Note: The quantity and thickness of food will dictate how long something takes to thaw. Chicken breasts may take 1 day while a large turkey may take several days.
  • Thaw food under running, drinkable water that is 70F or below.
  • Thaw food in microwave only if it is going to be cooked immediately afterward.
  • Thaw food as part of the cooking process. This applies to items such as frozen chicken nuggets, pizza, french fries, etc.


3. Separate Raw Food and Cooked Food
It is important to keep raw food separate from cooked food. Keep raw items in separate coolers and/or wrapped tightly at the bottom of coolers so that any juice that leaks doesn’t contaminate ready-to-eat foods and/or raw produce. Also be careful not to re-use platters, utensils, spatulas, or tongs that have previously touched raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Plan to have clean platters and utensils ready at grill-side for serving once items come off the grill.


4. Marinate Safely
Always marinate food in the refrigerator, never on the counter. If you want to use some marinade as a sauce for cooked food, set aside a separate portion and store it in the refrigerator. Do not reuse marinade that has had contact with raw meat, poultry, or seafood.


5. Cook Food Thoroughly
Invest in a food thermometer to ensure that food is cooked thoroughly and completely and that harmful bacteria has been destroyed by the cooking process. Don’t rely on “eye-balling” it. The Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures chart in this link provides handy information about what foods need to be cooked to which temperatures and for how long. It is a great reference to print out and put up on your fridge!


6. Keep Hot Food Hot
It’s important to keep hot food at 140F and higher until it is served. If you are bringing in take out food that’s hot such as fried chicken, parmesan spinach dip, baked beans, etc., be sure to consume whatever hot food you purchase within 2 hours.


7. Keep Cold Food Cold
Cold food should be held at or below 40F until served. Cold foods can also be placed on ice, out of direct sunlight in a shallow container to keep the temperature down. When transporting food, store it in the passenger compartment of the car vs. the trunk because it is typically significantly cooler.


8. Refrigerate and Freeze Promptly
While it can be hard to remember, especially when a party is in full swing, food should not be left sitting out for more than 2 hours. Never leave food out for more than 1 hour when it’s 90F or warmer.

Be sure keep these food safety tips in mind the next time you fire up the grill or head out to a BBQ! [i][ii][iii]


[i] Seltzer, H. Barbecue basics: keeping bacteria at bay.Food Safety.gov. Accessed at: http://www.foodsafety.gov/blog/bbq.html 
[ii] Barbecue basics: tips to prevent foodborne illness. US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Accessed at: http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm094562.htm
[iii] Food safety fact sheet: thawing foods. National Food Service Management Institute. Accessed at: http://nfsmi-web01.nfsmi.olemiss.edu/documentlibraryfiles/PDF/20091123115939.pdf
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