Don't Let Food Poisoning Spoil Your Summertime Fun
Follow these food safety tips so foodborne illness doesn't ruin your summer.
The warm weather is finally here! It's time for trips to the park and days spent lying on the beach. Before you pack your picnic lunch, take note: As the outside temperature rises, so does the number of people who come down with food poisoning, also called foodborne illness.
Disease-causing bacteria multiply quickly on foods in hot and humid conditions. So the safety of food declines once it is taken outdoors. Don't worry, you don't have to cancel your picnic and barbeque plans. Follow these tips to help prevent foodborne illness from spoiling your summer.
The rules of food safety
Follow these rules of food safety when planning your next summer outing:
Clean. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before handling food and after:
- Using the bathroom
- Changing diapers
- Touching animals
Always wash surfaces before and after preparing foods on them. Rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before eating. Sometimes water may not be available at the picnic site. Pack an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and use it to clean your hands before preparing the food. Bring some disinfecting wipes to clean surfaces. Rinse all fruits and vegetables before you leave home.
Separate. Keep uncooked foods, such as raw hamburgers, separate from ready-to-eat foods, such as pasta salad. Transport uncooked foods in leak-proof containers to prevent their juices from dripping onto other foods. Do not let utensils, plates and cutting boards that once held uncooked meats come in contact with cooked foods unless they have been thoroughly cleaned first.
Cook foods to a safe internal temperature. Always use a food thermometer. You cannot tell if a food is cooked just by looking at its color. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says foods cooked to the following temperatures are safe to eat:
- Ground beef to 160 degrees F
- Ground poultry to 165 degrees F
- Whole poultry to 180 degrees F
- Chicken breast and legs to 170 degrees F
- Beef, veal and lamb to 145 degrees F for medium rare and 160 degrees F for medium
- Pork to 160 degrees F
- Hot dogs to 165 degrees F
Chill foods immediately after serving. Hot foods must stay hot and cold foods must stay cold. The "danger zone" is between 40 and 140 degrees F. This is when bacteria multiply, so keep foods out of this zone. Eliminate leftovers by bringing along only the amount of food you will eat. Pack any leftovers in an insulated, ice-filled cooler so that they stay cool. When you get home, check the cooler to make sure that all perishable food is still cold to touch. When in doubt, throw it out.
More food safety tips
- Thaw foods in the refrigerator. Never thaw foods at room temperature. Foods can also be thawed in sealed packages in cold water, or in the microwave if the food will be cooked right away.
- Marinate foods in the refrigerator. Not on the counter. If you need to reuse the marinade after it's been on uncooked foods, first bring it to a boil to kill any bacteria.
- Transport foods in an insulated cooler. Use an insulated cooler and plenty of ice or ice packs to keep the food below 40 degrees F. Pack the cooler with foods right before you leave home. Transport coolers in an air-conditioned car, not in the trunk. Keep perishable foods in a separate cooler away from beverages; a cooler containing drinks will be opened more frequently. At the picnic site, store coolers in a shady spot (under a tree or picnic table) and replace the ice as needed.
- Don't leave food out for more than two hours before it is reheated or refrigerated. Do not leave food out more than one hour if the outside temperature is above 90 degrees F.
What foods are safe?
Some common picnic items do not need to be refrigerated:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Hard cheese
- Canned fish or meat
- Chips and pretzels
- Bread and rolls
- Peanut butter and jelly
To lower your risk of foodborne illness, never eat:
- Raw or undercooked meats - including beef, poultry and seafood
- Raw (unpasteurized) milk or products made with raw milk