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Summer Food Safety

Read tips on preparing and storing foods safely during the summer heat.

Summer Food Safety

Watch Out!

Keep your children away from grills or outdoor cooking fires at all times. Barbecue tools should be off limits, too.

Summer wouldn't be complete without picnics and barbecues. But be careful: Federal government studies show that cases of food-borne illness rise in summer for two reasons. First, bacteria grow faster in the warm summer months, especially when humidity is high. Second, more people are cooking and eating outdoors where refrigerators and sinks aren't available.

Most adults have healthy immune systems that protect them from getting sick from contaminated food. Young children are more vulnerable to food-borne bacteria, because of their immature immune systems.

There are some simple steps to keep your food safe in summer. The most important safety measure is washing your hands with hot, soapy water before handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets. If you're eating away from home, use disposable wipes or antibacterial gels and dry your hands with paper towels.

Gadget Guide

“Instant read” thermometers are designed to be inserted in fast-cooking foods such as hamburgers to test for doneness. These are not the same as meat and poultry thermometers that stay in the food throughout the cooking process.

Prevent Cross-Contamination

Cross-contamination during preparation, grilling, and serving food is another prime cause of food-borne illness.

When you pack your cooler, wrap raw meats or poultry securely so the juices won't come in contact with other foods. Wash plates, utensils, and cutting boards that held raw meat or fish before using them again.

Don't Undercook

Foods should be heated long enough and at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often brown fast on the outside but may be undercooked inside. Check them with a thermometer.

Cook meat and poultry completely at the picnic site. Partial cooking of foods ahead of time allows bacteria to survive and multiply to the point that subsequent cooking can't destroy them.

Here are the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) recommended temperatures for some meats, expressed in degrees Fahrenheit:

  • Cook hamburger and other ground meats to an internal temperature of 160°F and ground poultry to 165°F. You cannot determine if the meat is safe simply by the color.
  • Cook steaks and roasts that have been tenderized, boned, rolled, etc., to 160°F for well-done. Whole steaks and roasts may be cooked to 145°F for medium rare.
  • Whole poultry should be cooked to 180°F. Breast meat should be cooked to 170°F.
Safety Savvy

For additional food safety information, call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 800-535-4555. It is staffed by home economists, registered dietitians, and food technologists weekdays year round from 10 A.M. to 4 P.M. Eastern time. An extensive selection of food safety recordings can be heard 24 hours a day using a touch-tone phone. Or visit the Web site for more information.

Refrigerate Promptly

Luncheon meats, cooked meats, chicken, fish, potato or pasta salads, and other perishables should be kept in an insulated cooler with several inches of ice or ice packs. Replenish the ice when it starts to melt. Don't put food out until your family is ready to eat it.

Try to pack beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another cooler, because the beverage cooler probably will be opened frequently. If possible, keep the cooler on the seat of the car instead of in the hot trunk, and put it in the shade when you unpack the car.

Handling Leftovers

Stow leftovers back in the cooler as soon as you finish eating. Food left out of refrigeration for more than two hours may not be safe to eat. At 90°F or above, food left out over one hour can spoil. If in doubt, throw it out!

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