Human Nutrition, Diet and Health > HNDH Blog > Posts > ​Tips for Safe Food for the Summer

The number of foodborne illnesses increases during the summer. Here's why: Bacteria love the hot, humid days of summer, and grow faster than at any other time of the year. When the temperature is above 90 F, the time perishable food can be left outside the refrigerator or freezer drops from two
hours to one hour. At the same time temperatures rise, we're more likely to leave food unrefrigerated for longer time periods. Food sits out at picnics, barbecues and during travel. Washing facilities and thermostat-controlled cooking appliances often are not available at picnic sites. People may leave their food thermometer in their kitchen when cooking outdoors. 

Beat bacteria this summer with these five tips for safe foods.

1. Chill Out! - Avoid providing a playground for bacteria while enroute to your outing. Keep perishable foods cool by transporting them to a picnic site in an insulated cooler kept cold with ice or frozen gel packs. Perishable foods include meat; poultry; seafood; eggs; dairy products; pasta; rice; cooked vegetables; and fresh, peeled and/or cut fruits and vegetables. Pack the cooler immediately before leaving home with foods that have been kept chilled in the refrigerator. Avoid frequently opening the cooler container containing perishable food. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in another. Keep the cooler in an air-conditioned vehicle for transporting and then keep in the shade or shelter at the picnic site. To avoid frequently opening the cooler, open it once to remove only the amount of food that will be eaten immediately. Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood wrapped separately from cooked foods, or foods meant to be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables. Throw away any perishable leftovers that have been kept out over two hours (one hour if the temperature is above 90 F).

2. No Poking Allowed - Poking and stabbing meat with a fork or knife when placing or turning meat on the grill can cause a loss of juices that keep meat moist and tender. Piercing meat also can affect food safety. Bacteria normally are found only on the external surface of larger cuts of meat like beefsteaks. 
However, if a steak is poked with a fork or knife, these bacteria can be pushed into the steak.Use long-handled tongs to handle meat on the grill. Use a SEPARATE set of tongs for removing COOKED meat, poultry and seafood from the grill.

3. Safe at the Plate- Avoid cross-contamination. Place cooked meat, poultry and seafood on a clean plate, rather than the plate on which it was carried to the grill.

4. What's Hot, What's Not! -Rather than worry about keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold, limit the number of perishable foods on your menu, especially if you'll be at a picnic site for several hours. For example, serve: potato chips instead of potato salad; washed whole fruit (apples, oranges, bananas, plums, peaches, etc.) instead of a cut-up fruit salad; cookies or brownies instead of a
perishable cream-filled pie.

5. Get a Handle on Handwashing-Unwashed hands is a prime cause of foodborne illness. Whenever possible, wash your hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before handling food. When eating away from home, pack disposable towelettes if no handwashing facilities are available.  Also bring along bottle water and hand sanitizers. 


Submitted by Sharon Haynes, Regional Extension Agent - Human Nutrition, Diet & Health,,(256) 975-0089​


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