If, like many families, you rely on your child’s school or other agencies to secure food, check with your district to see if they provide meals during the summer months. You can also use the USDA’s “Meals for Kids Site Finder” to quickly and easily find nearby meal sites.
There are few things that say “summer” more than a picnic or BBQ. But did you know that foodborne illness cases peak during the summer? This increase is no coincidence. The summer months bring warmer temperatures that allow bacteria in food to multiply faster. As families tend to cook away from the kitchen (outdoor BBQs, picnics, campsites, etc.), cleanliness and food storage become more complex. By following these vital food safety tips, your family can enjoy delicious and fun outdoor meals together all summer long.
Start food safety practices at the grocery store
When you shop for your groceries, make the meat, poultry, and seafood section your last stop before checking out. Once you’ve picked these items, it’s a good idea to keep them separate from other food in your cart and shopping bags. Place these foods in the refrigerator in sealed plastic bags as soon as you get home. If you aren’t planning to use the foods within a few days, put them in the freezer. When you are ready to transport meat, seafood, or poultry, try to use an insulated cooler or keep the food on ice (keep food below 40°F).
Quick Tip: Use the individual bags in the produce section for extra protection between meats and other groceries.
Cleanliness is essential to prevent foodborne illnesses. The germs that can make your family sick can survive on food, your hands, utensils, cutting boards, and countertops.
Wash your hands thoroughly and often
Always wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food, especially raw meats, seafood, poultry, or uncooked eggs. It’s also important to remind your family to wash their hands:
- Before eating
- After using the restroom or helping someone in the restroom
- After changing a diaper
- After touching trash
- After coughing, sneezing, or nose blowing
- After interacting with an animal (petting, feeding, cleaning up after, etc.)
- Before and after treating a cut or injury
Quick tip: If you plan to do any food preparation outside, be sure to bring moist towelettes to clean your hands.
Keep cooking surfaces and equipment clean
Make certain that food surfaces (countertops/cutting boards) and utensils (knives, forks, tongs, etc.) are clean when you prepare your food. Wash surfaces and utensils after each use with hot soapy water. If you choose to use dishcloths in place of paper towels for clean-up and drying, wash these cloths often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
If you are using a grill for cooking your food, use a damp cloth or paper towel to clean the grill surface before cooking. If you decide to use a wire bristle brush to clean the grill, check for wire bristles that may have come loose. These stray bristles can stick in food and cause injury. (See more grill safety tips here).
Wash all fruits and veggies
Before preparing, chopping, or eating fruits and vegetables, rinse them under plain running water. Wash fruits even if you plan to cut away or peel the skin (bananas, oranges, melons, etc.). You can scrub firm produce like potatoes or cucumbers with a clean produce brush.
If you find that a piece of produce is damaged or bruised, cut away the area and rinse the item under running water, but do not use soap, bleach, or commercial produce washes.
Quick tip: Don’t wash meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood. Washing these items can spread harmful germs around your kitchen.
Separate foods during preparation, cooking, and serving
Keep raw meat, poultry, fish, and any of their juices away from all other food. You can prevent cross-contamination by using separate plates and utensils for preparing raw meat items and ready-to-eat foods, like raw fruits and vegetables. Some families find it helpful to designate specific cutting boards for meat, fish, poultry, and fresh produce. After cutting and preparing raw meats, poultry, and seafood, be sure to thoroughly wash your cutting board, knives, and other surfaces with hot, soapy water.
If your recipe asks you to marinate seafood, meat, or poultry, place the marinaded food in a covered dish in the refrigerator. Do not reuse marinades after they have had raw meat in the container. Immediately discard any leftover marinade as soon as you begin cooking. If you plan to brush extra marinade on your dish after cooking, be sure to set aside some unused marinade beforehand and use new utensils.
When grilling poultry, seafood, or meat, never reuse the container or plate that held raw food; use a new, clean plate for all cooked food.
Quick tip: Immediately remove dishes and utensils used for raw meats to avoid mixing them up with clean plates and utensils.
Cook and serve your food at the correct temperatures
Always use a food thermometer when grilling outside. The food thermometer will confirm meat and poultry are hot enough to kill harmful germs. If you don’t have a food thermometer, you can get a free one from USDA’s Meat and Poultry hotline by calling 1-888-674-6854.
Many people mistake the color of meat as an indication that meat is safe to consume. Meat and poultry on the grill often brown quickly on the outside without cooking entirely on the inside. You can use the chart below for guidance on safe internal food temperatures:
Quick tip: If you are using a smoker, keep the temperature between 225°F and 300°F.
Keep your hot and cold foods out of the danger zone
Bacteria grow fast between 40°F - 140°F. Internal food temperatures within this range are considered a danger zone. Keep cold foods cold by storing food in the refrigerator, a cooler, or on ice. The internal temperature for cold foods should be 40°F or below.
The same rule applies to hot foods. Keep your hot foods hot. Internal temperatures should not drop below. 140°F. If your hot food cools quickly, you can reheat it, but do not leave food at room temperature for longer than two hours (one hour if the outside temperature is over 90°F)
Quick tip: Quicker cooling helps prevent foods from entering the danger zone. Divide leftovers into shallow containers and place them in the refrigerator or freezer.