Picnics, barbecues, and poolside parties are part of summer fun. While warmer weather is ideal for outdoor gatherings, it also offers the perfect environment for bacteria to multiply in food—especially when you're cooking and eating away from the kitchen.
Every year about 76 million Americans get sick from eating contaminated food. While the usual result is a few hours or days of tummy troubles, such infections can be serious. Some 5,000 people in the United States die each year from foodborne illness. Harmful bacteria are the most common cause.
Good practices pay off
Much of the time, such food-related infections can be prevented by following these food safety precautions.
Uncooked meat, poultry, and seafood are often loaded with bacteria. Keep uncooked meats refrigerated and securely wrapped in plastic bags and away from other foods. Thaw or marinate them in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Use a separate cutting board for raw foods. Check that they're cooked to a safe temperature with a food thermometer. Don't put cooked food back on the same plate that held raw food unless you've washed it first.
Wash hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before and after handling these raw foods. Use clean cutting boards, utensils, dishes, and countertops and wash after each food-prep task.
How to keep bacteria in check
Buy unblemished fruits and vegetables, and refrigerate perishable produce. To reduce bacteria, rinse under running water and cut away any areas that are damaged or bruised. Dry with a paper towel or clean cloth.
To prevent bacteria from growing in food, refrigerate or use ice or gel packs in coolers to keep cold foods 40 degrees or below. Keep hot foods at least 140 degrees. Don't let food sit out for more than two hours—cut that time in half if the air temperature is more than 90 degrees.