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Food Safety Feature Articles


Don’t let unwanted guests spoil your summer fun


As summer temperatures rise, so does the risk for foodborne illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 76 million people get sick from foodborne illnesses and 5,000 die each year in the U.S.


“To prevent illness, apply the same food safety techniques whether preparing meals inside or outside,” said Lynda Johnson, nutrition specialist with University of Missouri Extension. “Don’t let bacteria spoil your backyard barbecue or family reunion,” she said.


Hand washing is a critical step in avoiding foodborne illness. According to Johnson, nearly half of all cases of foodborne illness could be eliminated if people would wash their hands more often when preparing and handling food. Find out if there is a source of clean water at your destination. If not, take along jugs of water for the sole purpose of hand washing or take moist wipes for hands and for cleaning surfaces that foods will be on and around.


The danger zone for bacteria is 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Bacteria can double in number every 15 minutes at temperatures in the middle of that range which is about 90 degrees. To keep bacteria count low, here are a few tips:


  • If temperatures are around 90 degrees, don’t leave perishable foods out longer than one hour. Don’t mix fresh foods with those that have been out, instead, replace the serving container with a new one. When possible, keep perishable foods like potato salad, deviled eggs, and meat and cheese trays on ice. Fill a large pan or bowl with ice and place the dish on top.
  • Thaw frozen meat or chicken overnight in the refrigerator or in the microwave — do not set it out on the counter to thaw. Also, marinate foods in a refrigerator or cooler to assure the meat is maintained at temperatures below 40 degrees. When you remove the meat, discard the marinade — never reuse any marinade used on raw meat or poultry.
  • When grilling meat, assure that it reaches the proper temperature. Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, chicken breast to 170 degrees and ground chicken or turkey to 165 degrees.
  • Avoid cross-contamination at the grill by using different utensils and platters for raw food and cooked food. Pack extra color-coded plates and utensils to help prevent cross-contamination, and use different spoons and forks to taste, stir and serve. Before placing meat or poultry on the grill, scrub it with hot soapy water or heat the grill to kill microorganisms.
  • All perishable foods should be kept cool at temperatures below 40 degrees F, so be sure to keep coolers stocked with plenty of ice or ice packs and use a refrigerator thermometer to check the temperature. Transport the cooler in the air-conditioned back seat of a car instead of a hot trunk and keep it in the shade or shelter at the picnic. Food should never be left at room temperature for more than two hours, or one hour if temperatures top 90 degrees.
  • Consider having separate coolers for food and drinks. The drink cooler is open often, making it hard to maintain cool temperatures that the food needs for maximum safety.


Practicing these food safety tips will help ensure you and your family enjoy summer eating. To learn more, review the Safe Food Handling fact sheets on the USDA website or contact your local MU Extension Center.


Tammy Roberts, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist with University of Missouri Extension, contributed to this article.


Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, June 2010
Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA,
American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods “Home Food Safety...It’s In Your Hands” program


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Last update: Monday, June 08, 2015