Summer Cookout Game Changers

It’s June and summer is here! Whether you are on a boat, at the lake or grilling out in your backyard, this is the season for outdoor eating. However, it can also be the time for food borne illness if not taking proper precautions and keeping food at the right temperatures. No one wants their cookout to get ruined by an illness, so go the extra mile to make sure your food is safe for all your friends and family. 

Food borne illness hits an all-time high in the summer for two reasons. First, bacteria grows best in 90-110 degrees, which is the temperature lots of us will be cooking out in this summer. In addition, moisture tends to harbor bacteria and foster growth. The late spring and summer months are often more humid and likely to increase the risk of bacteria growth. Here are 5 game changers for safe summer cookouts and BBQs:

  1. Wash your hands: Bacteria is found in water, air soil and all things outside. Though it might be hard at an outdoor event, try to have your guests wash their hands before they eat and for sure the people preparing the foods. Washing your hands vigorously for 15 seconds with warm soap water can kill lots of germs and limit the chance that any bacteria on your hands will get passed to food.
  2. Don’t cross contaminate: Foods like meat, dairy, eggs and even some fruits and vegetables run the risk for food poisoning. At your cookout, make sure every item has its own serving utensil as you don’t want the macaroni salad touching the beef and the possible bacteria from cooked potatoes in your potato salad touching the spinach salad and fruit. Oftentimes bacteria interacting with each other can put a person at higher risk for food borne illness.
  3. Watch out for the danger zone: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold! Food should not sit in the 40-140 degrees range. Cold foods should be kept in ice chests and even set on ice when ready to serve and quickly returned to the cooler or ice chest as soon as possible. Hot foods ideally should be kept warming on the grill until time to serve and wrapped in foil to help keep the heat inside. As soon, as you are done serving, aim to get the foods back into their appropriate environment.
  4. Count the hours: No food should be left at room temperature or in the danger zone, 40-140 degrees, for longer than a total of four hours. That is four accumulated hours, not just four at one time. For instance, if the food set out for 1.5 hours when you served it then you put it up and let people snack on it for another 1.5 hours later in the afternoon, then put it back up again, and you reheated it for dinner, the remainder needs to be discarded.  Foods left out for longer than four hours total run a higher risk of harboring bacteria thus increasing your chance of getting sick from consuming it.
  5. Be careful with leftovers: Consider tip 4 when you think about eating leftovers. Ask yourself “How long has this food sat at room temperature or in the danger zone?” If you think it is safe to eat, be sure to re-heat it thoroughly before consuming then toss what is left. If you think it sat out too long, then do yourself a favor and don’t eat it. You might not get sick from it, but you could. The risk is high when food has been outside where it is hard to control temperature. So, when in doubt, toss it out!