The warm summertime weather is the perfect reason to throw an outdoor picnic or barbecue. It’s a great way to gather friends and family for some fun and good food — but it can also be the cause of a potential health risk. Warmer weather and humidity means that bacteria will multiply faster — and that means a higher potential risk for food poisoning, food-borne illnesses, and food deterioration.
When it comes to preparing food in the summertime — especially if you are cooking out of doors — there are several precautions you will want to consider before you get started.
1) Prevent Contamination Before You Start Before you fire up the grill, let’s start with how you purchase food at the grocery store. First, make sure you keep meat, fruits and vegetables, dairy, breads and grains, and dips and condiments all separate in your cart and when they are bagged. Next, transport groceries in an air- conditioned vehicle if possible and store the food properly right when you get home.
When defrosting, keep all meat separate and let it defrost completely before putting it on the grill, so it cooks more evenly. Defrost food indoors in your kitchen — in a bowl of water in the fridge is best for meats. If you want to microwave meat to defrost it, this is fine, but make sure you cook the meat immediately afterward. Prepare fruits and veggies, dairy, and sauces and dips, etc. all separate as well in order to prevent contamination.
2) Prepare Your Grill and Cooking Space On the day of your event, take the time to clean and fully decontaminate your cooking area. This includes your kitchen and any outdoor surfaces you will be using. Thoroughly clean your barbecue and wipe down all the grill spokes. Ensure the cooking areas are clean and dry, and if they do get messy, wipe them down continuously with a clean cloth while preparing food.
3) Keep Everything Clean Food safety involves more than just keeping surfaces and utensils clean — you need to keep your picnic table, counters, and any other surface that your guests will be eating off and sitting at clean as well. Make sure your guests stay clean by keeping plenty of napkins, wet wipes, and antibacterial soaps on hand.
4) Keep Hot Food Hot and Cold Food Cold This is imperative. Make sure that cooked food gets eaten right away, and that it is cooked thoroughly. Color is not a safe indicator that food is cooked fully — you need to go by temperature to ensure you kill off bacteria. Cooked meats are safe at the following temperatures:
— 71 C (160 F) for ground beef, veal, and lamb — 160 F for pork — 85 C (185 F) for whole poultry — 74 C (165 F) for leftover food
Also, keep foods that should be served cold in an insulated cooler with either freezer packs or blocks of ice to prevent them from perishing. Aim for a temperature of about 4C (40 F) or colder.
5) Serve Food Safely Finally, serve cold food indoors and have your guests take their plates outside to enjoy the weather. If this isn’t possible, serve cold foods out of coolers right away instead of leaving them out on the table for a prolonged time. In warmer weather, no food should sit out for more than one hour. Remember: when in doubt, throw it out!