Food Safety for the Summer
Food safety is a top area of concern during the summer. The summer months are a time when we like to get outside and enjoy the warm weather. Many foodborne illness-causing bacteria love the warm weather too. While we spend our time enjoying picnics and firing up the grill, bacteria are ready and waiting to put an end to our fun. It doesn’t have to be this way though. Just by following some simple food safety tips, your outdoor food fest can continue to go on as planned.
The USDA estimates that there will be around 128,000 Americans who suffer from a foodborne illness this year. Foodborne illnesses can cause symptoms such as gastrointestinal issues like cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and can even potentially lead to death. Some of the common foodborne pathogens include bacteria. Proper food handling techniques can help to ensure that these pathogens are destroyed.
When planning to bring food to a picnic, or cook food on the grill outdoors and away from a kitchen, it’s important to remember to take steps to keep food safe. As mentioned, some foodborne illness-causing pathogens grow and multiply in the same temperatures that we like to play in too. The temperature range between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit is known as the “danger zone”. Within this range, bacteria can multiply quickly which increases the risk of illness. Bacteria grow even more rapidly in the range between 70-125 degrees Fahrenheit. Since our summer temperatures stay within this range, food safety is a top priority. Follow these tips below to make sure your summer is safe and foodborne illness free!
Getting ready for your outdoor picnic:
- Bring two separate, insulated coolers- one for beverages only and one for foods. It is likely that the cooler containing beverages will be opening and closing frequently, so keeping foods in a separate one, will help to ensure that the foods in the cooler stay at a safe temperature and are not as influenced by the outdoor temperatures or environmental pathogens.
- Separate raw and ready-to-eat foods- If you are bringing both ready-to-eat foods, as well as raw food items to cook at the outdoor event, keep them in two separate coolers if possible. If you cannot separate them this way, then be sure to package the raw food items in a waterproof container and lay them in the cooler first. Then use a barrier, like aluminum foil, to lay on top, followed by the ready-to-eat food items. This helps to ensure that any pathogens that could be lurking on the raw food items will not come in contact with those items that will not be cooked.
- Use clean ice to help keep food and beverages cold- Dirty ice could contain pathogens that, when melted, could leach out onto the food items and contaminate them. Frozen ice packs or other sealed, frozen foods can also be used to keep the items in the cooler cold.
- Pack the cooler full- A full, (but not over-full), cooler will keep its temperature better than one that is only partially filled.
- Use a thermometer- Place a thermometer inside your cooler and check the temperature once it has been sitting outdoors for a while. Remember to try to keep the contents inside away from the temperature danger zone for as long as possible.
- Have clean water and soap handy- Make sure where you will be going will have clean water available for washing hands, food, utensils, and food contact surfaces. If you are unsure, bring some clean water and soap with you to use.
- Bring two sets of utensils- Use a separate set of utensils for raw foods and cooked, ready-to-eat foods. This will ensure that any pathogens on the raw items that have not yet been destroyed by cooking, do not make their way onto foods that will not be cooked further.
Keeping food safe while outdoors
- Store your coolers in a cool place- Try to keep your coolers out of the direct sunlight. Place them in a cool, shaded area if possible, to help them hold their cool temperatures for longer.
- Separate raw foods from cooked foods- Don’t use the same plate that contained the raw food items to put your cooked foods items on after cooking. If you must use the same plate or container, (including the cooler), wash these items with soap and water in between uses.
- Cook foods to their recommended internal temperatures- Food items that have been identified as potential pathogen-containing items have been designated with recommended internal cooking temperatures to ensure the likelihood that these organisms will be destroyed, thereby making these foods safe to eat. The recommendation is to ensure these items reach their recommended internal temperatures for the amount of time designated below at minimum:
- Poultry (including whole or ground chicken, turkey, or duck) – 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds
- Ground meat (including ground beef, ground pork, and other ground meats)- 155 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds
- Seafood (including fish, shellfish, and crustaceans)- 145 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds
- Steaks and chops (including pork, beef, veal, and lamb)- 145 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 seconds
- Roasts (including pork, beef, veal, and lamb)- 145 degree Fahrenheit for 4 seconds
- Use a cooking thermometer- The only way to know that these foods are reaching their recommended temperatures is to use a food thermometer placed inside the cooked food.
Serving food safely and storing leftovers
- Keep hot foods hot- If hot foods will not be eaten right away, place them in a chafing dish, slow cooker kept on warm, or a warming table.
- Keep cold foods cold- Foods that are not meant to be served hot, and are not eaten right away, should be stored in a cooler, (or refrigerator if available), until ready to eat. If you are serving a buffet style type of picnic, these items can be placed in small containers and set over ice. Try using a small, inflatable pool filled with ice to hold these food items in for service.
- Get out only what is meant to be eaten right away- Many times during summer picnics and potlucks, large quantities of food items are set out like a display across the picnic table. Scoop out only the amount of food that you think will be eaten immediately into a small dish and place the rest into a cooler or hot holding tray. Then, when you need more of this food item, you have it ready to scoop out, while knowing it is being held at a safe temperature.
- Store leftovers quickly and safely- Any food item that is left within the temperature danger zone for longer than 2 hours, (or 1 hour on days where the temperature reaches 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher), needs to be thrown away. Since these items could have too many pathogenic bacteria residing on them, they are deemed unsafe to eat at this point. That is why it is important to store leftovers quickly in coolers, or a cooling unit, that brings the food temperatures back down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. The best way to do this is by placing leftovers into shallow dishes and then putting them into a cooler full of ice or into a refrigerator.
Keep your summer fun, safe, and foodborne-illness free by following these food safety tips.
For more information, visit the USDA’s Food Safety website at https://www.fsis.usda.gov, or become ServSafe Food Manager certified by taking a ServSafe course through the UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County.