Warm Weather Food Safety
by Dori Fritzinger
Summer is often associated with cookouts, picnics and other outdoor meals. But the combination of warm weather and leaving food out at room temperature can cause serious food safety concerns. It’s not always possible to see, taste or smell dangerous bacteria. Each year, many people will become the victims of some form of food poisoning. When transporting food and cooking out, it’s especially important to pay attention to matters of food safety and keep Cold foods Cold and Hot foods Hot.
But you can greatly reduce any food safety risks for your family by following some simple guidelines, starting at the grocery store.
Always keep cooked and raw food separate during preparation to prevent the contamination of foods that will not be cooked (such as salads).
Buy cold food like meat and poultry right before checking out. Separate raw meat and poultry from other food in the cart to prevent cross-contamination.
Load meat and poultry into the coolest part of the car. If you live further than 30 minutes away, bring a cooler with ice during summer months to store perishable foods when driving.
Place meat and poultry in the refrigerator immediately when you return home. Freeze ground meat and poultry that won’t be used in one or two days.
Completely defrost meat and poultry before grilling or cooking so it cooks more evenly. Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing.
Cook food to safe internal temperature. Whole poultry should reach 180 degrees F. and breasts should be cooked to 170 degrees F. Hamburgers should reach 160 degrees F. Beef, veal and lamb steaks and chops can be cooked to 145 degrees F. All pork should reach 160 degrees F.
Always thoroughly clean your meat thermometer between temperature checks to prevent re-contamination of the cooked meat.
In hot weather, food should not sit out more than one hour.
Frequently wash your hands, cutting board, counter, utensils and make sure you are using clean wash cloths and towels to dry your hands. This is especially important when preparing meats.
A cooler chest can also be used to keep hot food hot. Line the cooler with a heavy kitchen towel for extra insulation and place well wrapped hot foods inside. It’s amazing how long the foods will stay not only warm, but hot. Try to use a cooler that is just the right size to pack fairly tightly with hot food so less heat escapes.
Never reuse marinades that have come in contact with raw meat, chicken or fish.
Do not partially grill meat to use later. Once you begin cooking meat by any method, cook until completely done to assure that bacteria are destroyed
When taking foods off the grill, put them on a clean plate, not the same platter that held raw meat.
When preparing chicken, egg, or cold meat salads, or any recipes featuring mayonnaise, refrigerate it as soon as possible, and keep cold right up until packing time.
Pack food from the refrigerator right into the cooler.
Pack foods in the cooler in the order opposite of how you’ll be using them. In other words, pack the food you’ll need last at the bottom and so on.
As much as possible, keep coolers in the shade while at the picnic. Keep cooler lids closed and avoid unnecessary openings.
It’s a good idea to use a separate cooler for drinks, so the one containing perishable food won’t be constantly opened and closed. Replenish the ice if it melts.
If there are leftovers, throw them out unless you can safely keep them chilled until you get home. If there is still ice in the cooler when you get home, the leftovers should be okay to eat. When in doubt, throw it out! I hate to be wasteful, but when it comes to food poisoning, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you follow these guidelines and use some common sense, not only will your next cookout be a success, it will be safe too!
About the Author:
Dori Fritzinger is a freelance writer who writes from her family owned farm, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. When not busy tending to her family, farm, gardens – she enjoys writing about garden produce, herbs, berries, and the interaction of the family in the garden. She has studied both culinary and medicinal herbs and gardening for most her adult life. Now that her children are grown and she is a grandmother, she has more time to devote to her writing.