Food Safety for Summer

One of the cardinal rules for food safety is this: “Keep hot food hot and cold food cold.” That’s easier said than done when the weather’s hot, especially when beautiful weather tempts us out to BBQs and picnics. Food safety for summer requires some extra effort. 

Have the right tools

In your kitchen, you can use your sink, refrigerator, instant-read thermometer, and other kitchen tools to help get and keep food at the right temperature. 

When you take your meals outside, pack up the tools you’ll need. Carry more than one cutting board and knife if you’ll be cutting both meat and produce. Tuck a meat thermometer in your picnic basket if you’ll be grilling burgers so you can make sure they’re cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

Use ice packs in a cooler so you can keep cold foods cold. Better yet, take two coolers, one for food and one for drinks, so that people opening the cooler to grab a cold drink won’t raise the temperature of the cooler that holds meat.

Wrap the meat securely or put it into Zip-lock bags so it won’t contaminate other foods. Bring enough dishes to serve cooked meat from a clean dish — not from the dish that held the meat while it was raw.

Make yourself a checklist of the tools you need for the kind of picnic or grilling you usually do. Keep it on your phone or print out a copy to use each time you take food outdoors. That way you won’t be forced — or even tempted — to make do while cooking.

Perishable foods

Food poisoning is more common in hot weather because it’s harder to keep food at safe temperatures. It’s also more likely that you’re having relaxed meals with friends and family. That can mean food is left out for longer periods. The “danger zone” of temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees is where foods are likely to have bacteria growth that can lead to food poisoning. 

Two hours is the limit on how long perishable foods, either hot or cold, can be left out. Casseroles at a pot luck, meat at a barbecue, or desserts made with dairy products should all be stowed in the fridge after two hours. 

One way to make it easier to keep food at safe temperatures is to keep the dish in the refrigerator or warm oven (at least 140 degrees) and to put smaller quantities out on the table or buffet. Fill clean serving dishes from the refrigerator or oven during the party and replace the empty dishes.

Group meals

Summer Sid a great time to get together for parties and group meals. When foods are cooked by a lot of people, though, how can you be sure they’ve all followed safety precautions? 

The USDA ran a series of experiments comparing adherence to food safety protocols by people before and after an educational intervention. In the control group, who weren’t given any instructions, fewer than half followed basic food safety steps like washing produce and checking the internal temperature of meats. 

Giving instructions significantly increased the percentage of people who took those basic steps. Ask all the people preparing foods to follow these simple rules:

  • Wash hands before cooking.
  • Wash produce under running water.
  • Separate meats from other foods, and raw meat from cooked meat.
  • Keep food out of the “danger zone” from 40 to 140 degrees.

If you feel shy about reminding people about these food safety principle, just think how embarrassing it would be to have your party lead to food poisoning. 

With a little extra thoughtfulness, you can keep summer food safe.