Summer is a great time for many outdoor activities, including eating outdoors. However, serving foods in the summer heat increases the risk of foodborne illnesses.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million people a year suffer the effects of foodborne illness. And that’s probably an underestimation, since many of the episodes of vomiting and/or diarrhea that adults chalk up to a “stomach bug” are in fact thought to be caused by foodborne illnesses.
So, what can you do during the hot months to keep your family safe while eating?
Food preparation during hot weather
Wash fruits and vegetables. This includes things like the outside skins of melons. Some recent and very serious outbreaks of foodborne illness have been caused by contaminated melons. The bacteria are thought to be introduced into the fruit by the knife, during the process of cutting up the melon. The blade comes in contact with bacteria on the outside of the unwashed melon, and then carries the germs inside.
Don’t use the same cutting boards and knives for raw meats and produce. Make sure you first run them through the dishwasher or wash with soap and water to sanitize those spaces where you will be preparing foods that will be eaten raw or have already been cooked.
Freeze meats that will not be used within 1 or 2 days of purchasing.
Thaw frozen meats safely inside the fridge or by soaking in a cool water bath, not on the counter.
Use a food thermometer (even—or especially—when cooking on the grill), to make sure that meats are cooked to the appropriate internal temperature. For example, ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.
Use a clean platter for the cooked meats coming off the grill.
Boil any marinade you plan on serving as a sauce. (It’s fine to use the uncooked marinade for basting during the early part of grilling.)
Bring disposable hand wipes if you will be working with food away from home. Whether you are camping, at a picnic, or on a boat, hand wipes are a good idea when you have to clean your hands and surfaces but don’t have access to soap and water. It’s also a good idea for the kids (and everyone else) to swab their hands with wipes before eating.
Pack coolers right before you plan to leave. Leave perishables in the fridge for as long as possible.
Use enough ice so that you can fill any empty spaces in the cooler with ice or ice packs. You want to keep food at 40 degrees F or less.
Pack beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another. The drink cooler will get opened much more frequently. You want to minimize the opening and closing of the food cooler so that the temperature inside will stay cold.
Consider packing some foods frozen. For example, if it will be a few hours before you grill, pack the hamburger patties and hot dogs frozen. They will start to thaw in the cooler.
Keep coolers out of the sun. Try to situate them in a shady spot.
Don’t pack raw meats with foods that will be eaten right out of the cooler. These include foods that have already been cooked, and foods such as fruit and vegetables that will be eaten raw
Serve the foods on ice that need to stay cold. On a hot day (especially over 90 degrees), these will mostly be the foods that you would typically keep in the refrigerator back home. You can put such foods onto plates that are resting on top of ice packs or on top of regular plates filled with ice.
Watch the clock. Foods that typically need to be refrigerated (eggs, dairy, meats, etc.), whether you’re serving them cold or hot off the grill, should not sit out for more than 2 hours. If the outdoor temperature is 90 degrees or above, you really shouldn’t let such foods sit out for more than 1 hour.