I can think of lots of outdoor summer activities I love, but nothing more than a great big barbecue! I’m happy just thinking about it; after all, what could be more “summery” than relaxing outside with friends and family while enjoying the aroma and taste of freshly grilled salmon and corn on the cob, a nice potato salad, some coleslaw and a heavenly slice of sweet watermelon?
Cooking outdoors was once mainly a summer activity, but these days more than half of Americans say they love to cook outside year-round. With all that handling and packaging food for cooking and eating outdoors, it’s important to remember that improperly stored and served foods increase the chance of bacterial growth, particularly in foods that are high in protein and moisture, which includes cookout favorites like meats, poultry, seafood, dairy products and egg dishes.
Whether you are grilling, spit-roasting, reheating on a hot plate, or just taking along already-prepared foods, here are some helpful tips for keeping your food safe and tasty.
Keep hot foods hot
Hot foods need to stay between 140° and 160°F until ready to eat — harmful bacteria can rapidly grow when the temperature falls below this range. When food is cooked to temperatures of 165° to 212°F, most harmful bacteria is killed.
Keep cold foods cold
Cold food should be kept at 40°F or colder. Harmful bacteria can multiply quickly when temperatures climb above 40°F. Cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying.
Follow the 2-Hour Rule
The very maximum amount of time any prepared food should be left at room temperature is two hours, and that includes preparation, serving and eating time. Watch the clock and pack up food before time is up! Be sure to throw away any foods left out longer than two hours, and if you are enjoying your meal in the sunny outdoors and the temperature is above 90°F, throw food out after one hour.
Stay cool with coolers
Dishing it out
- A well insulated cooler packed with ice or reusable cold paks is a fine alternative to a refrigerator.
- Make sure the foods you pack in the cooler, whether purchased or made at home, have been kept below 40°F.
- Open the cooler as infrequently as possible to retain cold air.
- Although it may look nice to set all of the food out on the picnic table, it is safer to leave cold foods in the cooler until right before eating.
- Remember the 2-hour rule when food is removed from the cooler. If the outside temperature is over 90°F, the 2-hour rule drops to only 1 hour-so plan accordingly.
Keeping it fresh
- Keep hot foods at 140°F or warmer by using chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays.
- Keep cold foods at 40°F or colder by nesting dishes in bowls of ice. You may also use small serving trays and replace them often.
- Make sure there are plenty of serving utensils to help your guests serve themselves without mixing foods from different dishes.
- Be sure to provide a serving spoon and plates for dips and salsas. Placing chips and dips at opposite ends of the buffet table may also help discourage "double-dipping."
- While it is admirable to not waste good food, be careful to avoid food-borne illness in the process. When in doubt, throw it out.
And don’t forget
- Any food that has been left on a buffet table or in a cooler with melting ice for more than 2 hours must be discarded.
- Other leftovers can be divided into small portions, placed in shallow containers, and refrigerated or frozen.
- In general, refrigerated leftovers should be used within 4 days. Frozen leftovers will have the best quality if used within 2 to 4 months.
- Keep hands washed thoroughly, and keep cutting boards and all utensils clean with hot soapy water after each use.
- All meats, including fish should be thawed and marinated in the refrigerator – never at room temperature! Remember to cook all meat, poultry, and seafood thoroughly from start to finish. Partially cooked meat is prime real estate for bad bacteria.
- When taking food off the grill, always use a clean plate. Never put cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat.
Okay, feel ready now to head outdoors to cook up and safely serve some delicious food? We’ve got you covered with these fantastic grilling recipe ideas
and a whole host of tips for firing up the grill
with style. Looking for more safety tips? The USDA has you covered with their Barbecue Food Safety
Got any other tips for safe food outdoors — how do you keep your hot food hot and your cold food cold? Let me hear!