Kristina Beaugh, MPH, is a member of the Food Safety Education Staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service.
For many Americans, Memorial Day is the official start of summer. And what better way to kick off summer than with a cookout? It’s a great time to have a little fun in the sun with friends and family. But do you know what else loves the warm weather? The bacteria that cause food poisoning. If you or someone you are caring for is receiving or recovering from cancer treatment, foodborne illness can lead to a serious infection. Use these 5 food safety tips to protect you and your family from food poisoning this summer.
Tip #1: Pack a Cooler
If you’re celebrating Memorial Day away from your kitchen, you’ll need to plan ahead to make sure you have everything you need for a safe meal. Here’s a checklist to get you started:
Moist towelettes and/or hand sanitizer
2 coolers—1 for food and 1 for drinks
Frozen gel packs
2 sets of cooking utensils
Paper plates and disposable silverware
Clean containers for leftovers
Tip #2: Keep It Clean
Keeping hands and surfaces clean is an easy and important step in preventing foodborne illness. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before cooking and after handling raw meat or poultry. Wipe down food tables with disinfecting wipes before serving food, and keep hand sanitizer at the food station to encourage friends and family to keep their hands clean, too!
Tip #3: Avoid Cross-Contamination
Cross-contamination occurs when juices from raw meat and poultry touch ready-to-eat foods, like vegetables, fruits, or cooked food. When packing your cooler, pack securely wrapped raw meat and poultry at the bottom of the cooler to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods. Additionally, use separate plates and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Never put cooked food on a plate or tray that has held raw meat. This is where using paper plates can come in handy!
Tip #4: Cook It Safely
With a lot of different food items on the grill, it can be hard to know when everything is finished cooking and is safe to eat. The only way to know if your meat or poultry has finished cooking and is safe to eat is to measure their internal temperature using a food thermometer. Once foods are cooked, keep them warm with chafing dishes or by keeping them on the warm side of the grill rack.
Tip #5: Follow the 2-Hour Rule
Be sure to keep track of the time! Perishable foods should not sit out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. If you’re eating outside and the temperature outside is above 90°F (32°C), food should not sit out for more than 1 hour. Bacteria multiply rapidly on food that has been sitting out for too long and can potentially make people sick. For both hot and cold items, arrange and serve food on several small platters rather than 1 large platter. Keep extras in the fridge and reheat as needed.
If you have additional food safety questions, you can call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskUSDA, available from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.