Summer time is prime time to relax in a hammock or at the beach but it’s certainly not the time to relax food safety concerns.
Due to a variety of factors, most notably the sweltering temperatures outside, the website foodsafety.gov, ramps up consumer education efforts and reports that the risk of food born illness increases during the summer months.
The infamous ‘danger zone’ where bacteria and other bad bugs thrive and multiply lies between 40 degrees and 140 degrees F.
So, leaving picnic or backyard barbecue foods out in the summer heat is tempting fate.
Generally food safety experts advise foods not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours, but when the mercury reaches 90 that time frame is shortened to no more than one hour.
The same goes for carrying groceries home in the car or transporting restaurant leftovers to your home refrigerator. Get all foods home in under an hour, or place them on ice in a cooler in your car.
Make sure not to invite a bout of food borne illness to your summer festivities, even if you have to politely remind your host.
Here are some important reminders from foodsafety.gov.
When bringing food to a picnic or cookout:
- Use an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs. Frozen food can also be used as a cold source.
- Foods that need to be kept cold include raw meat, poultry, and seafood; deli and luncheon meats or sandwiches; summer salads (tuna, chicken, egg, pasta, or seafood); cut up fruit and vegetables; and perishable dairy products.
- A full cooler will maintain its cold temperature longer than a partially filled one. When using a cooler, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or shelter.
- Avoid opening the cooler repeatedly so that your food stays colder longer.
When cooking on the grill:
- Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat and ready-to-eat items like vegetables or bread.
- Keep perishable food cold until it is ready to cook.
- Use a food thermometer to make sure meat and poultry are cooked thoroughly to their safe minimum internal temperatures
- Beef, Pork, Lamb, & Veal (steaks, roasts, and chops): 145 °F with a 3 minute rest time
- Ground meats: 160 °F
- Whole poultry, poultry breasts, & ground poultry: 165 °F
- Always use a fresh, clean plate and tongs for serving cooked food. Never reuse items that touched raw meat or poultry to serve the food once it is cooked.
When serving food outdoors:
- Perishable food should not sit out for more than two hours. In hot weather (above 90 °F), food should NEVER sit out for more than one hour.
Serve cold food in small portions, and keep the rest in the cooler. After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served – at 140 °F or warmer.
If there is still plenty of ice in the cooler when you get home, and the food did not sit out at the picnic, the food is still safe to store in the refrigerator.