Summertime means more cookouts and picnics — and a heightened risk of food poisoning. Use these food-safety tips to stay healthy and eat well through fall.
Summer’s here, which means more meals and get-togethers will move outdoors. Unfortunately, most of us don’t give food safety quite the attention it deserves when we’re picnicking by the lake or barbecuing in the backyard. Headlines about foodborne illnesses traced to a specific restaurant or food — like the recent romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak — grab our attention, but the fact is that many cases of food poisoning are simply caused by food that’s been left out for too long.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness each year, and thanks in part to warmer temperatures, rates of food poisoning go up in the summer. Here are some tips to help you stay safe and healthy while enjoying eating al fresco:
Keep it cool
Use an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs — a full cooler stays cold longer than one that’s partially filled. Keep it out of direct sunlight, and consider packing beverages in their own cooler so the food cooler is opened less frequently. (When you do open the food cooler, close the lid quickly.) For long trips to campgrounds or vacation rentals, take two coolers — one for the food you’ll need that day, and the other for perishable foods you’ll use later in the vacation. If you have frozen food in the cooler, it also works as a cooling source.
Serve cold food in small portions, and keep the rest in the cooler or refrigerator: If you’ve made a huge vat of potato salad, don’t set it all out at once. No perishable food should sit out for more than two hours — but that time drops to one hour when the weather tops 90 degrees. And remember: You can’t tell by looking or sniffing if a food is safe to eat.
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Foods that especially need to be kept cold include raw meat, poultry and seafood, along with any dishes containing eggs, mayonnaise or perishable dairy products. But you probably knew that. What you might not know is that you also need to be particularly careful with deli meats and sandwiches, along with any salads — not just mayonnaise-based salads, but any pasta or grain salads with vinaigrettes.
It also pays to play it safe with cut-up fruit and vegetables, as it’s easier for cut surfaces to harbor bacteria. That goes double for whole melons, as the knife can transfer any bacteria on the rind to the surfaces of the cut fruit. If you’re slicing a melon, first scrub it with a clean produce brush under running water. Then cut into it with a clean knife on a clean cutting board.
Marinate meat and poultry in the refrigerator, not on the countertop — it’s a myth that acidic marinades kill bacteria. Keep cold until ready to cook, then use a food thermometer to make sure those burgers and chicken breasts are heated thoroughly to their safe minimum internal temperatures — 145 degrees Fahrenheit for beef, pork and lamb, 160 degrees Fahrenheit for ground meats, and 165 degrees Fahrenheit for poultry. When the food’s done, keep it hot until served (140 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer to stay in the food safety zone) by setting it to the side of the grill rack. Finally, use fresh, clean tongs, cutting boards and plates for serving cooked food. Happy grilling!