Summer Food Safety

Summer is the season for picnics in the park, weekend camping trips, and backyard cookouts. However, heat, bacteria, and parasites can create a number of food safety challenges. It’s easy to forget about food safety while you’re having fun in the sun, but it’s a necessary part of keeping your family healthy and safe.

Foodborne illness is much more common during the summer than during the rest of the year. Approximately 1 in 6 Americans are affected by food poisoning each year. Foodborne illness is also responsible for an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations in the United States annually. Here are a few things to consider with summer food safety.

There are four main things to keep in mind when it comes to summer food safety and preventing foodborne illness. Keep things clean, keep them separate, make sure all food is cooked thoroughly, and keep foods out of the “Danger Zone”.

The “Danger Zone”

The United States Department of Agriculture calls the temperature range between 40 °F to 140 °F  the “Danger Zone“. These temperatures cause bacteria to grow to dangerous levels that can cause foodborne illness. The longer foods stay at these temperatures, the greater the chances of food poisoning.

Hot food should be kept above 140 °F and cold food should be kept below 40 °F. Never leave food out at room temperature for more than two hours, and never more than an hour if the temperature is over 90 °F.

Cook food thoroughly

A food thermometer can make sure that food is safe to eat. Different foods must be cooked to different internal temperatures depending on what type of food it is, but all reheated foods should be heated to an internal temperature of 165 °F to ensure that all harmful bacteria have been killed.


Keeping things clean is key to avoiding foodborne illness. Keep hands, dishes, utensils, and surfaces clean to avoid contamination.

It’s easier to keep hands, dishes, utensils, and surfaces clean in the kitchen than it is around the campfire or on a picnic blanket. Hand sanitizer, moist towelettes, and biodegradable soap can help you keep things clean while camping or at your picnic.


Use separate dishes and utensils for different foods. This is especially important when dealing with both raw and cooked foods. For example, use a different set of tongs when placing raw meat on the grill than serving cooked meat.

Other tips for summer food safety

  • Don’t leave food sitting in direct sunlight for extended periods.
  • You can help keep things clean by keeping foods covered.
  • Serve food in smaller portions, and keep the rest chilled in the cooler or warm on the grill. This ensures that food sits out for as little time as possible.
  • Pack a cooler with ice, keep it in the shade, and leave it closed as much as possible to keep it as cold as possible. Full coolers stay colder longer.
  • Once you bring food outside, the potential danger of foodborne illness increases. Serve food indoors if at all possible.