Expert Health Articles

Summer Food Safety

Rachel SnyderRachel Niermann

Registered Dietitian

With warm weather here to stay, people are spending more time outdoors again. With the increase in outdoor activities, we tend to take eating outdoors and can easily lose sight of food safety. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in six people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 individuals die each year from foodborne illnesses. Learning the core components of food safety can keep you and your loved ones safe during the hot summer months.    

As we head outdoors to eat, a number of factors can lead to foodborne illnesses during the summer months. Imagine yourself at a picnic or a get together with friends. How long does the food sit out for? How hot can it get in the summer? Time, temperature and moisture play a major role in the growth of harmful bacteria. Hot summer temperatures and humidity provide the perfect catalyst for bacterial growth if food safety is not followed.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, one way to prevent foodborne illnesses is to remember that perishable food should not sit out for more than two hours. In hot weather, above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, food should never sit out for more than one hour. These foods include raw meat, poultry, and seafood; cut up fresh fruits and vegetables; deli meats and sandwiches; summer salads including tuna, chicken, egg, seafood or pasta; and perishable dairy products. If you are unsure of how long a product has sat out, it is best to toss the item than risk a foodborne illness. The most common symptoms of a foodborne illness include abdominal pain, cramping, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever and dehydration.

                Once outdoors the usual safety components of the indoors including thermostat-regulated cooking, refrigeration and washing facilities can be hard to come by. Grilling and picnicking are two popular components of outdoor eating that can lead to foodborne illness. When grilling and/or picnicking this summer, remember these food safety tips:

  • Thaw before grilling: Thaw out meats for even cooking. For a slow, safe defrost, place items in the fridge or run a sealed package under cold water. For an item to be grilled right away, a quick defrost using the microwave is ok.
  • Clean: Wash your hands before and after handling raw meats. Wash and sanitize work surfaces, utensils and the grill before and after cooking. If washing facilities are not available, bring along disinfecting wipes for your hands and working surfaces.
  • Separate: To avoid cross-contamination, use separate plates and utensils for raw and cooked meats and ready-to-eat foods. Throw out marinades or sauces that have touched raw meats.
  • Cook: Use a food thermometer to ensure that meats are cooked to a safe temperature to kill harmful bacteria.
    • Beef, pork, lamb and veal must reach a temperature of 145 with a three minute resting time
    • Ground meats - 160
    • Whole, breast or ground poultry- 165
  • Chill: Use an insulated cooler filled with ice or ice packs and avoid opening the cooler multiple times to keep items cool longer. Keep the cooler out of direct sunlight. Portion out small amounts of chilled ready-to-eat foods and keep the rest in the cooler.

Remember, food safety is important during all seasons, but even more so during the summer months. Keep these core basics in the forefront of your memory and have a safe summer!