We celebrate summer with food, from fruit pies and potato salads to steaks and seafood. In this season of picnics, potlucks, and barbeques, though, it’s easy to become distracted and forget to handle food safely. How long has that ambrosia salad been sitting out in the sun? Did you put the barbecued chicken on a fresh plate? Should those deviled eggs be refrigerated?
About one in six Americans gets food poisoning each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the incidence of food poisoning increases during the summer months. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that when we eat outdoors, it can be difficult to prepare and store food safely. Warmer temperatures and humidity also help the bacteria that can cause foodborne illness to thrive.
Luckily, the miseries of food poisoning are often preventable. A few rules can help you keep your family and your guests healthy at your next outdoor event.
Think of everything you touch each day: your hands carry more germs than you might realize. Before you prepare or serve food, wash your hands with warm, soapy water or a disposable washcloth. Make sure your equipment is clean as well, such as utensils, cutting boards, and plates. When you’re done preparing food, wash your hands again to make sure you don’t carry germs from raw food (such as ground beef) to ready-to-eat food.
Clean fresh fruits and vegetables
Unwashed fresh fruits and vegetables, a prime source of food poisoning, can pick up germs and pesticides on their journey from the farm to your home. They can also become contaminated in your home if, for instance, raw chicken drips on them in your refrigerator. Clean fruits and vegetables in diluted dish soap and rinse them thoroughly under running tap water. Be sure to clean fruits with rinds and skin, too, such as uncut melons and oranges. Then dry them with a clean towel before packing them for your picnic.
Separate raw and cooked or prepared foods
Wrap raw meat, poultry, and seafood so that their juices do not drip on other foods. When grilling, make sure you put cooked meat, poultry, and seafood on a clean plate, not on the plate that held the items raw. Use clean utensils to serve the food.
The USDA recommends that you check the internal temperature of a cooked food with a food thermometer to make sure the food is safe to eat. Do not partially cook foods unless you plan to finish cooking the food immediately afterwards. Bacteria can grow in partially cooked food.
To make sure food is safe to eat, follow these guidelines:
- Steaks, chops, and roasts: cook to 145 degrees F; let rest for at least three minutes after cooking
- Fish: cook to 145 degrees F
- Ground beef, veal, pork, and lamb: cook to 160 degrees F
- Egg dishes: cook to 160 degrees F
- Poultry: cook to 165 degrees F
- Lobster, crab, and shrimp: cook until they are opaque and pearly
- Oysters, clams, and mussels: cook until their shells open
Keep food at the right temperature
Once food is prepared, it’s important to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Keep cold foods such as pasta salads below 40 degrees F until they are ready to be served. Keep hot, cooked foods, such as hamburgers, at 140 degrees F or higher until they are ready to be served. Don’t leave prepared food sitting out in the sun for too long, either. Chill any leftovers to below 40 degrees F within one hour if the outdoor temperature is over 90 degrees F. Chill leftovers within two hours if it’s cooler outside.
Laurie Bouck (www.lauriebouck.com) is a freelance health writer and author.