Summertime Food Safety

What is food safety and why is it important?

Did you know that about one out of every six Americans gets sick from foodborne diseases each year? That’s about 48 million people! What’s more is that 128,000 of those people are hospitalized and 3,000 die because of diseases that spread from food contamination, not keeping food at the correct temperature, or consuming spoiled food or drinks.

In the summertime months, we love to take advantage of the beautiful weather by picnicking, grilling out, or just taking our meals outside on the patio. However, even in these scenarios, it’s important to be mindful of the safety of our food. Foodborne illnesses are entirely preventable. Here’s some information about how you can prevent yourself and others from getting sick.

What are the causes of unsafe food?

Food can become unsafe by coming into contact with contaminated materials or surfaces from the environment or people. Unsafe food can lead to foodborne illness.


  • Pathogens - They are everywhere and include bacteria, viruses, and parasites you may not be aware of. The goal is to reduce their spread while preparing food.
  • Cleaners - Cleaners are much needed in preparing a space for cooking, but should not be near food as they include many chemicals.
  • Naturally occurring physical contaminants - Things like dirt can easily find themselves in food, especially when cooking outside.


  • Neglecting personal hygiene - Practicing good personal hygiene helps ensure pathogens are not passed to food. Wash hands thoroughly or use hand sanitizer before working with food. Washing your hands for 20 seconds is the easiest way to keep foods and surfaces contamination-free.
  • Ignoring time and temp guidelines - Understanding how time and temperature affect food helps control food safety. Letting food sit out too long at a temperature that promotes dangerous pathogen growth makes food unsafe. Follow the recommended internal temperatures below.
  • Cross contaminated surfaces - Working on dirty surfaces or using cutting boards for meat and other items can pass pathogens to food. Avoid placing items such as cell phones, purses and bags on surfaces where you’ll be preparing food. These items have been everywhere and usually carry lots of germs. Keep them in a space where food prep is not taking place.
  • Failing to clean - Start your cooking process off right. Clean all surfaces thoroughly before preparing or cooking food to limit the spread of pathogens.

What can I do to prevent getting sick from my food?

There are many ways to prevent foodborne illness. Here are some tips that are geared to your summertime picnics and poolside parties.

  • Prevent harmful bacteria from contaminating your food from the start. Wipe down the surfaces you will be eating on. If you are using a grill, scrub the racks with hot, soapy water before cooking.
  • Wash your hands before, during, and after handling food. If you do not have access to soap and water, make sure to scrub your hands with hand sanitizer.
  • Prepare your food ahead of time. Thaw frozen foods in the refrigerator or in the microwave at 50% power. Do not thaw frozen foods on the countertop or outside. Marinate food in the refrigerator and do not reuse marinades that were used on raw meat, poultry or fish.
  • Keep your coolers clean and cool. Wash your cooler with a disinfectant wipe or soap and water before and after use. When using the cooler, pack them with plenty of ice. When transporting the cooler, keep it in the air-conditioned car rather than the hot trunk. It may even help to keep a thermometer in the cooler to make sure the temperature stays below 40°F.
  • Never put loose ice from the cooler into your beverage. This ice will have picked up bacteria from the surfaces of food containers or other items in the cooler. If you need ice for your beverage, keep it in a sealed plastic bag.
  • Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood away from ready-to-eat foods. Use separate gloves, utensils and plates for each. If you are using your bare hands to transfer raw meat, be sure to wash your hands before and after handling.
  • Pay attention to expiration dates for raw meat as well as on packaged, canned or jarred food.
  • Do not leave food out for longer than two hours to prevent harmful bacteria from growing. However, if the temperature outside is 90°F or higher, do not leave food out for more than one hour! If the foods have been sitting out for longer than this, throw them away.
  • Be mindful of cooking temperatures. If any foods are not cooked fully, harmful bacteria may still be present and can cause illness.