Because foodborne bacteria thrive and multiply more quickly in warmer temperatures and we spend more time cooking and eating outdoors, foodborne illness can spike during summer.
The Danger Zone is the temperature range between 40 °F and 140 °F in which foodborne bacteria grow rapidly to dangerous levels that can cause illness. Leaving perishables out too long in the Danger Zone is one of the most common mistakes people make, especially during summer gatherings.
- We usually tell people that food should not be left off a heat source or out of refrigeration for more than two hours. This rule remains if the temperature is below 90 °F. But if the temperature is at or above 90 °F, the safe time limit for food sitting out is reduced to 1 hour. If you are not sure how long food has been sitting out, throw it out immediately.
- An ice chest with ice is an acceptable way to keep food cold during a picnic. Pack an appliance thermometer in your cooler to ensure food stays at or below 40 °F. Don't forget to replace the ice. Divide large amounts of food into shallow containers for fast chilling and easier use. Packing drinks in a separate cooler is strongly recommended, so the food cooler isn’t opened frequently. Keep the cooler in the shade, and try to cover it with a blanket or tarp to keep it cool. Replenish the ice if it melts.
- If you plan to marinate meat and/or poultry for several hours or overnight prior to cooking, make sure to marinate them in the refrigerator – not on the counter. If you plan to reuse the marinade from raw meat or poultry, make sure to boil it first to destroy any harmful bacteria.
- If you are grilling foods, be sure to use clean serving dishes for cooked meat. Beware of cross contamination in your ice chest. It is best to pack the meat in a plastic container inside to ice chest to keep the juices from mixing with melted ice and contaminating the other items in the ice chest.
- Handwashing facilities are often not available. Bring a supply of wipes to wash cooking surfaces and handsanitizer for cleaning hands before eating. Bottled water and some soap is a must to wash hands after handling raw meat.
- To ensure safety, leftovers must be put in shallow containers for quick cooling and refrigerated to 40 °F or below within two hours.