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Summer Food Safety

Monday, July 9, 2018

Graduations, barbeques, boating, camping, picnics, July 4th … summer is here NY! 

I don’t know about you but I love the tastes and smells of summer.  There is nothing better than sitting in the sun, smelling the BBQ, and sitting down with friends and family for a summer banquet.   For sure, this season brings a different way of cooking and entertaining – throw some hots and hamburgers on the grill, fix a few salads, and bring out the ice cream for dessert.  Alas, sometimes the party does not go well when the potato salad has been sitting in the heat for too long and well, several tummies rebel.  Every year, the CDC estimates that 1 in 6 (or 48 million) American get sick with a foodborne illness.  In addition, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.  Safe food handling during the warm weather is the first step to reducing your risk for foodborne illnesses and keeping the party fun.

Unfortunately, rates of foodborne illnesses are higher in the summer months.  This is for two primary reasons: 1) There is bacteria present in the soil, air, water, and on the bodies of animals and people.  These microorganisms grow faster in the summer months.  They are particularly fond of temps between 90°and 110° Fahrenheit; and 2) People have food outside more often without the temperature control of refrigerators, ovens, and heating trays.  Bottom line, lack of temperature control and extended time in the heat = bacterial growth.  Safe food handling is critical for protecting yourself, your family and friends from foodborne illnesses.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers the following tips:

·       Keep cold food cold.  Place cold food in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs.  Store food at 40° F or lower to prevent bacterial growth. Pack meat, poultry, and seafood while still frozen so they stay colder longer.

·       Organize cooler contents.  Pack beverages in one cooler and perishable items in another cooler.  That way, as people replenish their drinks, the perishable items won’t be exposed to the warm outdoor temperatures.

·       Keep coolers closed.  Try to limit the number of times you open the cooler.  The fewer times you open it, the colder it will remain.

·       Don’t cross-contaminate.  Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood securely wrapped and contained.  Make sure no meat juices come in contact with other foods.

·       Clean your produce.  Before you pack the cooler, rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water.  Be sure to do this for all produce including melons.  Packaged fruits and veggies that are labeled “ready to eat,” “triple washed,” or “washed” need not be washed.

·       Keep it cold/hot.  When serving, keep cold foods at 40°F or colder until ready to serve.  Once served, it should not sit out for longer than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90°F.   Hot food should be at or above 140°.   Just as with cold foods, hot foods should not sit out for more than 2 hours or 1 hour if above 90° outside.  IF FOOD IS LEFT OUT LONGER THAN THESE PRESCRIBED TIMES, THROW IT OUT.

·       Clean your hands.  If you don’t have running water, wash your hands with jugged water, soap, and paper towels OR use moist disposable towelettes. 

·       Thaw safely.  Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing or thaw sealed packages in cold water.  For quicker thawing, use the microwave’s defrost option if the food will be placed immediately on the grill.

·       Marinate safely.  Marinate foods in the refrigerator – never on the kitchen counter or outdoors.  If you plan to use some of the marinade for a sauce later, reserve a portion in a separate container before you start the marinating process.  NEVER REUSE MARINADE.

·       Cook immediately after “partial cooking.”  If you partially cook food to reduce grilling time, do so immediately before the food goes on the grill.

·       Cook food thoroughly.  Use a food thermometer to ensure the food is cooked all the way. Refer to the package or FDA chart for proper temperatures.

·       Don’t reuse platters or utensils.  Never put cooked meat on a platter used to transport raw meat. Bacteria from the raw meat will contaminate the cooked food. Always use a clean plate for cooked food.

·       Keep the cooler in a shady spot.  If at all possible, keep coolers under a table or in a shady spot.  You can also cover it with a tarp or blanket to preserve the cool temperature.

For more information on summer food safety, go to: or

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at or 585-335-4327. 

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Mary Sue Dehn

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