National Consumers League

Food

NCL Food Issues

Don’t let foodborne illness ruin summer celebrations

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Summertime picnic safetyWith temperatures heating up, many of us are heading outdoors to celebrate summertime with picnics, cookouts, and other gatherings. While warm weather creates the perfect atmosphere for family reunions, company picnics, and general merriment, it also increases the likelihood that foods served outdoors will spoil and sicken consumers.

To protect yourself, your family members, and your guests from foodborne illness, follow these simple rules:

Prep your food for safety

Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds, both before and after handling food items. Take special care when handling raw meat.

Keep raw poultry, meat, and eggs away from other foods to avoid cross-contamination.

Thaw and marinate meat, poultry, and seafood in the refrigerator, and not at room temperature.

Clean all surfaces that come into contact with raw meat or poultry – such as cutting boards, utensils, dishes, and countertops – with hot, soapy water or a bleach solution. If outdoors without access to a kitchen, store anything that has come into contact with meat in a separate, sealed bag, and clean items as soon as possible (discard the bag).

Transport food with care

If traveling to a picnic or cookout, store cooked foods, produce, and raw meat and poultry separately, in sealed containers, to avoid cross-contamination during transport.

  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Store hot foods in insulated containers, and keep cold foods on ice – or reusable cold packs – in coolers. In particular, mayonnaise-based foods and cut melons need to be kept cold.
  • Car trunks can exceed 150°F, so transport coolers in the passenger area of the car if at all possible.
  • After arriving at your destination, be sure to remove all food from the car. Place coolers in the shade and keep them closed until the contents are needed.

Grill safety 101

Cook meat in one step, rather than cooking partway and finishing later. Bacteria grow more rapidly in partially cooked food.

Thoroughly cook meat to kill any harmful pathogens that may be present. The only way to know that meat or poultry has reached a safe internal temperature is by using a meat thermometer. Remeber the following temperatures to ensure safety:

  • Ground beef, lamb and pork: 160°F
  • Ground poultry: 165°F
  • Hot dogs: 165°F
  • Beef roasts and steaks: 145°F
  • Poultry: 165°F
  • Pork chops, roasts, and tenderloin: 160°F

When removing cooked food from the grill, always use a clean plate. Never put cooked food – or anything else – on a plate or tray that was used to hold raw meat.

Serve safely

  • Wash hands before serving (and grilling, if applicable). If the picnic site does not have hand washing facilities, bring moist towelettes for all guests, in order to decrease the chances that food will be contaminated
  • Serve and eat grilled foods immediately.
  • Keep hot foods at a temperature between 140°F and 165°F until they are served, as harmful bacteria can grow rapidly at temperatures below 140°F.
  • Keep cold foods at 40°F or cooler until serving, as harmful bacteria can multiply quickly above 40°F.
  • Avoid the temptation to display foods on picnic tables and remove them from coolers/warming areas only right before eating.
  • Minimize handling of picnic foods – such as buns, cut watermelon, and sandwich fillings – as much as possible. The more people who touch an item, the higher the risk of contamination.
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers immediately. If the temperature is above 90°F, discard all prepared foods that have sat outside for longer than one hour. Regardless of the temperature, prepared foods should never be left at room temperature for longer than two hours.