Holidays Public Health

Keep Food Safe in the Heat This Summer

A father and son grilling on the porch.

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If your idea of a perfect summer day includes entertaining and eating outdoors, you’re in good company. You’re also in the right place for some tips on protecting your family and friends from foodborne illness.

Food safety is especially important during the warm-weather months when high temperatures create the ideal environment for foodborne bacteria to grow. Follow these summer food safety tips to keep harmful illnesses from food at bay.

Protect Yourself at Picnics

It’s no picnic if you’re not bringing food to a park, pool or beach. But getting your food to your picnic area safely — and keeping it safe — requires some planning ahead. One of the first rules of picnic safety is to practice good handwashing and to keep all platters, plates and serving utensils clean.

Here are key tips for packing and transporting your picnic food safely:

  • Avoid cross-contamination by keeping meats, poultry and seafood securely wrapped
  • Clean your produce before packing it in the cooler
  • Keep coolers closed as much as you can during the picnic itself
  • Keep coolers containing perishable foods separate from coolers containing drinks
  • Store cold foods — like meat, poultry and seafood — at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below

Also, don’t forget that safe food handling includes never letting your picnic food remain in the “danger zone,” which is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours — or one hour if it’s hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

Bacteria in foods left in these temperatures for too long can multiply rapidly, leading to foodborne illness.

Finally, make sure cold foods like chicken salad and desserts are placed directly on ice, or in shallow containers set in deep pans filled with ice. Similarly, keep hot foods hot by wrapping them well and placing them in insulated containers until serving.

Grill Safely This Summer

If you’re planning a cookout as part of your summer picnic, there are some guidelines for cooking in hot weather to ensure the food you grill makes it safely to the table.

First, always cook food thoroughly. Make sure you have a food thermometer on hand when it’s time to grill. Remember that beef, pork, veal and lamb should reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit, poultry should reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and fish should reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Here are other cookout safety tips:

  • Marinate foods in the refrigerator, not outside or on the kitchen counter
  • Never reuse marinade
  • Cook immediately if you’ve partially cooked foods before grilling
  • Keep food hot after it’s grilled, which you can do by moving the food to the side of the grill rack, just away from the coals to prevent overcooking
  • Check for foreign objects, like foil or bristles from a grill brush, in food
  • Never reuse platters or utensils that have touched raw meat, poultry or seafood
  • Wash your hands frequently

If you have leftovers, refrigerate them within two hours of cooking, dividing them into shallow containers so they’ll cool quicker.

What to Do if Food Poisoning Strikes

Unfortunately, precautions against foodborne illness aren’t always foolproof. Food poisoning can develop when bacteria get into your gastrointestinal tract through the food you eat and cause an infection. Most of the time, symptoms of food poisoning — often including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea — just need to run their course.

However, the infection can pose risks to pregnant women, older adults, young children and people with weakened immune systems. That’s why it’s important to know what to do if more serious symptoms develop, like blurry vision or a high fever.

If you or someone you love needs immediate medical attention, we’re here to help. Find the urgent care center or emergency room closest to you.

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