Here's how to avoid food poisoning during the hot summer months, whether at a barbeque, picnic, campout, or on the road to your next destination.
Stomach-churning, but true: Food-borne illnesses are most common in summer, when high temperatures speed bacteria growth and outdoor cooking (without refrigeration or indoor plumbing) reigns supreme. Here’s your recipe for beating the odds.
At a Barbeque
- Keep raw meat and veggies separate. To help avoid cross-contamination, give each type of food its own cutting board, platter, serving dish, and tongs.
- Mind your sauces and marinades. If you baste your food on the grill, use a fresh batch of sauce—not the marinade the meat was sitting in—and wait until the last few minutes to slather on multiple coats. Once the exterior of the meat is well cooked, it won’t contaminate the rest of the sauce.
- Never serve undercooked burgers. Cook pork, beef, and lamb burgers to a minimum internal temp of 160°F; aim for 165°F with poultry.
- Thaw meat thoroughly before you grill it, so it cooks evenly. Otherwise, still-frozen spots in the meat may be undercooked, allowing bacteria to survive the cooking process.
- Always thaw and marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter at room temperature. Don't reuse marinade that's come into contact with raw meat.
- It may take longer, but it's very important to cook meat thoroughly on your grill. If you want to cut down grilling time, precook the meat slightly in the oven or microwave before you grill it. To determine if meat is fully cooked, use a meat thermometer.
- Cut into the meat before serving to inspect for signs of pinkness or blood.
- Don't put cooked meat on the same platter used for the raw meat unless you've washed the platter thoroughly.
- If you're not going to serve the grilled food immediately, keep it hot (above 140 degrees). Don't let it sit at room temperature for more than two hours.
- Don't leave condiments such as ketchup, mustard, or mayonnaise out (especially in the sun) while you're waiting for the food to cook. Bring them out only when the food is ready to be served, and promptly put them away after everyone has eaten.
On the Road
- At the grocery store, make the meat aisle your final stop. And don't drive around to do other errands afterward—take the meat home to your refrigerator first. Or, if you know you must make other stops, bring a cooler in your car to keep the meat cold.
- When packing lunches, ensure that food is kept chilled. Food shouldn't be out of the refrigerator or oven at room temperature for more than two hours.
- If you're cooking ahead of time, allow enough time for the food to cool down in the refrigerator. Chill it in small containers (instead of one large container) to ensure that it's chilled thoroughly. Keep the food in the refrigerator until just before you leave the house.
- Pack foods in several small containers so you can keep second helpings cold in the cooler.
- Pack your cooler with plenty of ice to ensure a temperature below 40 degrees. Bacteria multiply rapidly on food kept at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees.
- Keep drinks in a separate cooler from perishable foods. People will tend to reach for drinks frequently, causing the ice to melt more rapidly.
- Don't transport the cooler in the trunk of your car. Keep it in the air-conditioned portion of the car.
- Once you arrive at your destination, keep the cooler out of direct sunlight.
- Place leftover foods in the cooler immediately after everyone is served. Throw away any food left out for more than two hours.
- For the ride home, keep the cooler in the air-conditioned section of the car. If the trip was less than five hours and the food was kept on ice (except when it was cooked and served) you should be able to eat the leftovers. When you get home, make sure the food is still chilled. If it's not, throw it away.
- Go by the old adage: "If in doubt, throw it out!" It's best not to gamble and get food poisoning.
On a Campout
- Prep ingredients in advance. Chop fruits and veggies, make burger patties, and butcher your chicken at home, then place the items in sealed bags in a cooler.
- Keep coolers cold. Before you pack them, chill each one with ice for 30 minutes.
- Create a handy hand-washing station. No running water nearby? Set up two washing tubs: The first is full of hot (boiled) water and soap, the second has cold water.
At a Picnic
- Don’t let food languish. Perishable items left out for two or more hours should not be consumed, especially if they contain mayonnaise. Rather than setting out a whole container at once, pour a small portion into a serving dish for guests and then refill it from your cooler as necessary
- Chuck any used condiments. If everyone’s been helping themselves to the same jar of jam and tub of butter over the course of a picnic, there’s a good chance bacteria has been introduced into them. Portion them out into smaller containers, buy squeeze bottles, or toss the open jars when the meal is over.
How else can you keep your family safe from food poisoning this summer? Follow these safe grilling rules, courtesy of the Mississippi State University Extension Service, and tips for picnicking and traveling with food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.