Did you know that summertime is the easiest time of year to get food poisoning? No joke. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), harmful bacteria grow fastest at temperatures between 90–110°F. On top of that, these tiny organisms need moisture to live. It’s really no wonder that hot, humid weather is bacteria’s favorite thing.
But don’t panic! There are lots of ways you can fortify your picnics and your family against foodborne illnesses this summer. Because who wants to be stuck inside sick with food poisoning when you could be outside enjoying beautiful weather? So to help you stay safe and healthy at your summer barbecues, here are five food safety tips right from the USDA:
1. Keep Clean
- Always wash your hands before handling any food.
- If you’re eating at a campsite, find out ahead of time if there’s clean drinking water. If there isn’t, bring your own bottled water for all cooking, drinking, and hand-washing.
- Wash all surfaces you’ll be using to prepare your food—both before and after you use them.
2. Don’t Cross Contaminate
- Never let raw meat or the juices from your raw meat come in contact with ready-to-eat foods.
- After handling raw meat, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
- Any utensils, plates, or cuttings boards used to prepare your meat should be disinfected before you use them to prepare anything else.
3. Cook Your Foods Safely
- Use your food thermometer this summer!
- Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F. Once you take it off the grill, allow your meat to rest for at least three minutes before you dig in.
- Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160°F.
- Cook all raw poultry to an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Never partially cook your meat. You might think you’re saving time, but really you’re allowing bacteria to grow to the point where your next cooking job won’t kill them off. Yikes!
4. Chill Your Food ASAP
- Pack perishable foods like lunchmeat, cooked meats, potato salad, and pasta salads in an insulated cooler with lots of ice. Marinade your raw meat in the fridge—not on the counter—and if you can’t bring a cooler to your picnic, consider packing only non-perishable foods.
- Store your cooler in the coolest part of your car and try to keep it out of direct sunlight. If the ice melts, replace it as soon as possible.
- Consider putting your canned drinks in a separate cooler. The more you open the cooler, the less it will be able to protect your perishable food.
- If you’re not planning to eat food within two hours of purchasing it, put it in the fridge.
5. Beware Those Leftovers
- Put your leftovers on ice as soon as you finish eating. Better safe than sorry.
- Remember that food left out for more than two hours might not be safe any more. And any food left out for more than one hour in 90°F heat should definitely go in the garbage.
- When in doubt, throw it out. Seriously.