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Summer is for spending time outside, with family, and with a lot of food! Cookouts are a great way to combine all of these. No matter how much fun you’re having, food safety is still a very important part of any event that includes food. Get some easy tips to keep your summer cookout safe and healthy!

Don't forget about food safety this summer! Get some quick and easy food safety tips for all your summer cookouts.

Cookout Food Safety

Marybeth here, from Alarm Clock Wars and AgriCultured. Summer weather is finally here! Farmers (in Indiana, at least) are finishing up with their planting, and families are thinking about lighting the grill for quick dinners at home and for hosting big cookout parties in the backyard. Cooking out and having parties is what the summer is all about! But there are still a few things you need to think about to keep your food safe for you, your family, and your guests.

Keep It Clean

Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after handling food. How long is 20 seconds? Sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” twice (or sing “Happy Birthday” once) instead of keeping time on your watch.

Don’t have running water at your picnic site? Pack a jug with warm water to be used only for hand washing. Bring along some soap and paper towels, and you’ve got a hand washing station! You can also toss a package of baby wipes in your bag for quick clean ups. (What mother doesn’t have those stashed everywhere?)

Anything that you are marinating should be kept in the refrigerator the entire time it’s soaking in the marinade. Never reuse any “leftover” marinade as a baste or sauce for cooked food. If you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce, set some aside (and keep it refrigerated) before you add the meat. Find out more about what marinades do and how to marinate foods here.

Avoiding cross-contamination is key. You know what cross-contamination is… you’re thawing a package of ground meat in the refrigerator and it leaks a little bit. The liquid from the meat drips down onto the shelf below, and now you’ve got to clean your entire refrigerator. That’s cross-contamination. Keep it to a minimum by cleaning your refrigerator on a regular basis, following these guidelines for safely thawing meat, and using the produce drawers in your refrigerator. Packing your cooler the right way will also help to minimize the possibility of cross-contamination.

Once you’ve used a plate (or a bowl, or a dish) to hold raw meat, it should go directly into the “wash me” pile. Better yet, put it directly in the dishwasher if you have one available. When you’re getting ready to take those burgers off the grill, use a clean plate to hold the cooked food. This is a very easy (and often overlooked!) way to avoid cross-contamination.

Cook it Completely

Preheat your grill before you toss the food on it. For gas grills, let them preheat for 10-15 minutes before cooking. For charcoal grills, let it heat for 20-30 minutes. You want the coals to have a fine coating of ash on the outside before you start cooking.

Know the minimum internal recommended temperatures for the foods you’ll be cooking. Then use a food thermometer to be sure you’re getting to those temperatures! Foods like hamburgers and chicken breasts often look done before they have reached a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria that might be present. Use these guidelines to be sure your foods are cooked to the right temperature:

Type of Food Minimum Recommended Internal Temperature
Hamburgers and other ground meats 160 degrees F
Steaks and pork chops 145 degrees for medium-rare; 160 degrees for medium
Chicken and other poultry 165 degrees F
Seafood Until it is opaque and flakes easily

Keep Hot Food Hot and Cold Food Cold

We have covered the basics of food temperatures before. Cold foods need to stay at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and hot foods need to stay at or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not leave foods out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours (or longer than 1 hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or higher). After that 2 hour mark, bacteria can start to grow quickly. Eating food after it’s been sitting at room temperature for 2 hours could make you sick, even if you took every precaution before then.

Packing a cooler the right way will help to keep your cold foods cold. Use one cooler for drinks and a separate cooler for food. This will help keep the food colder longer, since people won’t be opening that cooler so often to get another drink. Keep the cooler out of direct sunlight to help it stay colder longer. If you’ll be packing fresh produce in your cooler, be sure to wash it before loading it into the cooler. All produce needs to be washed before it can be eaten. Washing at home is best to make sure that everything gets washed well.

Get more tips for keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold in this post: Summertime Food Safety.

If you want even more information about food safety and food freshness, download the FoodKeeper app from the Food Marketing Institute (free for Android and iPhone). This app gives you easy-to-find information about how to store and cook your favorite foods, right at your fingertips!

What is your favorite thing about summertime cookouts? Do you have more tips to keep your food safe while still enjoying the party? Share them here!

Marybeth from Alarm Clock Wars

I am a large animal veterinarian, cow farmer, pet owner, grocery buyer, social media consultant, so very much not-a-morning-person. Every morning, I fight the good fight to stay in a warm bed with a