UC HEALTH LINE: Brush Up on Food Safety Tips for Summer
CINCINNATI—A hamburger, coleslaw and slice of watermelon—the perfect summer meal. But before you mix up the potato salad and fire up the grill, learn some simple ways to keep your food safe during the dog days of the season.
First off: Keep warm foods warm and cold foods cold. It’s a simple rule, but Rebecca Smith, University of Cincinnati (UC) associate professor of nutrition sciences, says temperature plays a big part in food safety.
“You should always transport foods that require refrigeration in a cooler, even if you are only going a short distance,” she says.
Smith recommends packing coolers full, using extra ice or freezer packs if necessary. Only bring the perishable food you plan to use that day and, once at your destination, store the cooler out of direct sunlight.
Try not to open the cooler too much before you’re ready to eat. If you’re going to take along cold drinks or snacks, consider bringing along a separate cooler that can be opened frequently.
Smith says people can overlook food safety issues “if they aren’t aware of how easy it is to contaminate foods.”
Once it’s on the serving table, she says food should only be left out one hour on hot days and two hours when temperatures are cool. Perishable food shouldn’t go above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
If the summer party includes a grill, bring along a meat thermometer to make sure meat is cooked thoroughly. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service Web site has a list of the minimum internal temperatures for different meats.
“Cross contaminating during barbecuing is a big problem,” says Smith. To avoid this, keep raw meat and poultry packed separately from cooked foods and use separate sets of plates and utensils to handle each. If you plan to reuse any marinades, boil them first.
“You also want to make sure you wash your hands after you have placed the meat on the grill, even if you are using tongs,” says Smith.
For cleaning up hands and faces after eating, Smith says soap and water are best. If they are not available, an alcohol-based wipe or hand sanitizer will do the trick.
If all the cooking draws a crowd of bugs, Smith says don’t worry. Mosquitoes and bees might be annoying, but they won’t hurt food.
“Flies are the most unsanitary, but you aren’t going to get sick if they land in a plate and you shoo them away,” she says. “Using Citronella candles is the best solution, since they don’t contain chemicals that can contaminate foods like bug sprays do.”
For more information, including specific tips for bringing food on camping trips and to the beach, visit the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s list of fact sheets.