Summer food safety is serious

Summertime is prime time to relax in a hammock or by the pool, but it’s certainly not the time to relax food safety concerns.

Due to a variety of factors, most notably the sweltering temperatures outside, foodsafety.gov ramps up consumer education efforts in summer and reports that the risk of foodborne illness increases during the summer months. The infamous “danger zone” where bacteria and other bad bugs thrive and multiply lies between 40 degrees and 140 degrees F. So, leaving picnic or backyard barbecue foods out in the summer heat is tempting fate.

Generally, food safety experts advise foods not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours, but, when the mercury reaches 90, that time frame is shortened to no more than one hour. The same goes for carrying groceries home in the car or transporting restaurant leftovers to your home refrigerator. Get all foods home in under an hour, or place them on ice in a cooler in your car.

Make sure not to invite a bout of foodborne illness to summer festivities, even if you have to politely remind your host.

Here are some important reminders from foodsafety.gov.

Picnic or cookout:

  • Use an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs.
  • Foods that really need to be kept cold include raw meat, poultry and seafood; deli and luncheon meats; summer salads (tuna, chicken, egg, pasta or potato); cut up fruit and vegetables; and perishable dairy products.
  • A full cooler maintains its cold temperature longer than a partially filled one.
  • Avoid opening the cooler repeatedly so that food stays colder longer.

Cooking on the grill:

  • Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat and ready-to-eat items such as vegetables or bread.
  • Always use a clean plate and tongs for serving cooked food. Never reuse items that touched raw meat or poultry to serve the food once it is cooked.

Serving outdoors:

  • Perishable food should not sit out for more than two hours. Above 90 degrees F, food should never sit out for more than one hour.
  • Serve cold food in small portions, and keep the rest in the cooler.

Leftovers:

  • If there is still ice in the cooler when you get home, and the food did not sit out at the picnic, the food is still safe to store in the refrigerator.

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Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and author of “The Slim Down South Cookbook.” Email her at carolyn@carolynoneil.com.

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