Practice Safe Food Handling when Cooking, Eating Outdoors
Nashville, TN – Summer is prime time for cooking and eating outdoors, and the Tennessee Department of Health urges all Tennesseans to practice safe food handling to avoid foodborne illness. Commonsense precautions for packing, transporting, cooking and storing food will help keep your outdoor meals safe and healthy.
“Summer offers lots of opportunities for Tennesseans to enjoy barbecues and picnics, but these warm weather events also present opportunities for foodborne bacteria to thrive,” said Health Commissioner Susan R. Cooper, MSN, RN. “Safe food handling is critical when eating outdoors to protect yourself, your family and your friends from foodborne illnesses.”
Federal authorities estimate there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses such as norovirus, E. coli, shigella and salmonella in the United States each year-the equivalent of sickening 1 in 6 Americans. These illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths nationwide every year.
Safe food handling should start long before a meal is served, beginning in the kitchen with food preparation. Follow these tips to keep food safe from the refrigerator or freezer all the way to the picnic table.
- Keep cold foods cold. Cold food should be stored at 40° Fahrenheit or below to prevent bacterial growth. Place cold food in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs.
- Organize cooler contents. Consider packing beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another. That way, perishable foods won’t be exposed to warm air every time diners reach for a drink.
- Keep coolers closed. Limit the number of times the cooler is opened as much as you can to help keep the contents cold.
- Don’t cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood securely wrapped. This keeps their juices from contaminating prepared/cooked foods or foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables.
- Clean your produce. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water before packing them in the cooler – including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth towel or paper towel.
Grilling foods is a rite of summer, and these guidelines will help ensure grilled food is safe when it reaches the table.
- Marinate foods in the refrigerator – never on the kitchen counter or outdoors. If you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce on cooked food, reserve a portion separately before adding the raw meat, poultry or seafood. Don’t reuse marinade that has been used on raw food.
- Cook food thoroughly. Always use a food thermometer to be sure your food is safely cooked. Steaks, roasts and fish should be cooked to 145° F; pork and ground beef to 160° F; whole chicken and chicken breasts to 165° F.
- Keep “ready” food hot. Grilled food can be kept hot until served by moving it to the side of the grill rack, just away from the coals. This keeps it hot but prevents overcooking.
- Don’t reuse platters or utensils. Using the same platter or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood allows bacteria from the raw food’s juices to spread to cooked food. Have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side to serve your food.
Once your favorite summer dishes are prepared, guidelines for proper handling will help keep cooked foods safe. Keeping food at proper temperatures indoors and out is critical in preventing the growth of foodborne bacteria. Cold perishable food should be kept in the cooler at 40° F or below until serving time. Hot food should be kept hot, at or above 140° F. Never let food remain in the “danger zone” between 40° F and 140° F for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90° F.
Other commonsense tips for safe food handling apply to outdoor cooking and dining just as they do when eating indoors. Always wash your hands before preparing food and before eating. If running water isn’t available at your picnic site, use a bottle or jug of water with soap and paper towels, or try disposable towelettes.
For more tips on safe food handling, visit www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm109899.htm.