Summer recess is just around the corner, and kids and parents alike can look forward to fun outdoor activities such as pool parties, BBQs, camping trips, hikes, and visits to the beach. Warm weather is ideal for preparing and consuming meals outdoors; however, it also provides the perfect environment for bacteria and other pathogens in food to multiply rapidly and cause foodborne illness. Nothing puts the brakes on having a great summer vacation quite like coming down with a case of food poisoning- or needing to take care of a family member who has! Therefore, summer is the perfect time to review the basic steps to food safety.
Eight Basic Steps to Summer Food Safety
Follow the suggestions below to prevent food-borne illness, and discuss these concepts with your children. This is especially important if they are preparing their own meals or snacks to eat!
Wash hands thoroughly: Before handling any food, make sure you wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Repeat this after you are done handling food, and any time you touch raw meat.
Beware of the “danger zone”: The “danger zone” in food safety is the temperature range between 40°F and 140°F. In this range, bacteria rapidly multiply and can reach unsafe levels after 2 hours, or 1 hour if the temperature is at or above 90°F. If you have leftovers that haven’t been eaten or refrigerated within 2 hours after being served (or 1 hour if at or above 90°F), the food should be discarded.
Keep cold foods cold, and keep hot foods hot: Keep cold perishable foods at or below 40°F until you are ready to cook or serve. If you are away from home, use a cooler filled with ice or ice-packs to keep perishable foods at a safe temperature. After cooking, make sure to keep hot foods at least 140°F until they are ready to be served. Put perishable food items back in the refrigerator or cooler once you are done using them.
* Tip: If using a cooler, open and close it as infrequently as possible to avoid the exposure to warmer air. To help with this, consider packing two coolers: one for perishable foods, and one for items which may need to be accessed more frequently such as beverages. Keep coolers out of direct sunlight.
Cook to correct internal temperatures: Use a food thermometer to determine whether meats are done cooking- do not rely on color alone! The following chart provides safe minimum internal temperatures:
* Tip: Insert the thermometer at the thickest part of the meat.
Keep raw meats separate: Be careful when transporting and storing raw meats, ensuring that juices from the raw meat do not come into contact with fruits, vegetables, and other ready-to-eat foods. Put raw meat into plastic bags, and keep it separate from other foods.
Use separate trays and utensils: Never use the same serving trays, cutting boards, or utensils for raw meats and cooked meats or other foods. To avoid cross-contamination, always use clean plates and utensils. Any item that has come into contact with the raw meat must be washed with hot water and soap before it can be used again.
Marinade meats safely: Marinating should be done in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter or elsewhere. If you plan to also use marinade as a sauce, set a portion to the side before adding any raw meats. Do not re-use marinade that has been in contact with raw meats.
Wash fruits and vegetables: Before cutting or peeling, make sure that you rinse all produce with water.
For ideas on how to teach your children about food safety, see the following resources:
Katherine Greene, MPH, Cornell University
US Food and Drug Administration, Eating Outdoors, Handling Food Safely.
USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, Barbecue and Food Safety.