July 24, 2024

FDA Has Tips for Eating Outdoors and Handling Food Safely

This is Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial beginning of the summer season. Many people will be barbecuing and having picnics outdoors. These events are opportunities for foodborne illness, especially since the warmer weather months can increase the chance of food poisoning. So the FDA is offering tips for eating outdoors and handling food safely.


First, pack and transport the food safely. When perishable foods aren’t in the refrigerator, they are at greater risk for bacterial contamination. Cold food should be kept cold. Use a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs and make sure that the temperature in the cooler is at 40*F or below to prevent bacterial growth. You can pack meat, poultry, and seafood while still frozen so they stay colder longer.

Organize the cooler contents. Put beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another. Then, as your guests open the beverage cooler, the perishable foods won’t be exposed to warm temperatures. And keep the coolers closed to keep the contents cold.

Beware of cross-contamination as you pack the cooler. Keep raw meat, seafood, and poultry securely wrapped and away from foods that will be eaten uncooked.

Clean your produce before you pack it. Fresh fruits and vegetables should always be rinsed under tap water. Rub firm-skinned fruits and vegetables with a clean vegetable brush. Dry all produce with a clean cloth or paper towel. Any pre-packaged fruits and vegetables that are labeled “ready to eat,” “washed,” or “triple washed” don’t need additional washing.

Clean your hands before you touch the food. If you don’t have access to clean running water, use a water jug, soap, and paper towels. Moist towelettes can be used, but soap and water are better. And keep all utensils and platters clean when preparing and serving food.

Grilling outdoors is fun, but can be potentially hazardous. Always marinate foods in the fridge, never on the counter or outdoors. If you are going to use marinade as a sauce, reserve a portion separately before adding the raw meat. Never partially cook meats and hold them for later cooking.

Cook food thoroughly to a safe final internal temperature as measured by a reliable and accurate food thermometer. Don’t reuse platters or utensils. If you put cooked food on a platter that held raw meat, you have cross-contaminated the food and risk food poisoning. And keep grilled food hot; move it to the side of the grill rack.

Check for foreign objects in grilled food. Some grill cleaning brushes can leave bristles on the grill, which can transfer to the food.

Finally, keep cold food cold and hot food hot. The danger zone for bacterial growth is between 40*F and 140°F. Never leave perishable food out of refrigeration longer than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90°F. And remember that coolers will not cool food down; they can only hold hot or cold foods at a safe temperature for a limited period of time. Throw perishable foods away after your picnic.

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