The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) ran the numbers and it’s true; foodbourne illness (or “food poisoning”) is more prevalent in the summer.
Why? The answer seems to be rather simple: bacteria thrive in warm, wet environments and we tend to take our food outside more often when it’s warm.
According to the USDA, “most foodbourne bacteria grow fastest at temperatures between 90 to 110˚ F”. Sound familiar? Bacteria also love moisture, so when the humidity kicks in it’s the perfect environment for stomach bugs.
Add these ideal conditions to the summer traditions of cooking outside for a picnic, grilling on the deck and camping trips and you can see where food poisoning could run rampant. Your kitchen at home offers safety controls you can’t find outside – refrigeration, heat-controlled cooking and a sink, for example.
Even if you do eat a little bacteria with your burger, most of us have healthy immune systems that take care of it. Still, keeping bacteria at bay is recommended. Remember these steps for summer food safety:
- Keep it Clean
It’s not easy to do when you’re outside, but make a concerted effort to wash your hands and surfaces often. Soap and warm water are best, but moist towlettes and paper towels will get the job done.
- Avoid Cross-Contamination
Anything that touches raw meat (plates, utensils, cutting boards, etc.) should not be used for cooked food. You’ll also need to use caution when you’re packing the cooler; be sure you wrap raw meats securely and protect ready-to-eat items from leaking raw meat juices.
- Cook to Safe Temperatures
Pack your food thermometer and use it to be sure everything you serve is cooked to the recommended internal temperature. The USDA stresses it’s important to let cooked meat “rest” for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. Don’t partially cook meat, bring it to your picnic site and then finish cooking it – partial cooking allows bacteria to survive and multiply to the point where that second round of cooking can’t destroy them.
- Refrigerate Promptly
Keep cold foods cold! Consider packing beverages in a separate cooler since you’ll probably be opening that cooler repeatedly throughout your event. If you’re worried about keeping perishable foods cold, consider shelf-stable options like fruits, vegetables, hard cheeses, bread, peanut butter, or crackers.
If it’s been outside for more than two hours it needs to be thrown out. If temperatures are above 90˚ F don’t leave it out for more than one hour. Put leftover perishables back in the cooler as soon as you finish eating, and if you have any doubts throw it out.