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Food Safety 101: Dos And Don'ts For Summer Eating

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The summer heat means heading outdoors for barbecues, picnics and patios. Having meals outdoors is one of the best parts of summer, but improperly prepared foods can affect our health. Health Canada states that between 11-13 million people have food poisoning yearly. Ensuring the safety of food can be especially challenging this time of year because of the rising temperatures.

Be smart when it comes to outdoor eating with these tips on how to cook, keep and clean up when it comes to food in the summer!

1. Keep It Cool
Food needs to be kept at the proper temperature, especially when you add the summer heat into the mix. When transporting food to the beach or to a picnic, bring two cooler bags -- one for raw meat and another for other perishable foods; never mix raw meat with other items, unless the meat is in a spill-proof container. If liquid from the meat leaks into the cooler bag, it will contaminate the other food.

Make sure your cooler bag is filled with ice packs to store your food on the go. The temperature inside the cooler should be at or below 4°C (40°F). Use a portable thermometer to place inside the cooler to ensure that the proper temperature is kept. When travelling, keep the bags in your car where the air conditioning can help keep them cold. Don't store your cooler bags in the hot trunk.

Foods that are at the biggest risk when overheated are meat and dairy, so avoid the mayo-based salads like egg and potato when you're packing your sides, unless they are kept on ice and not exposed to the sun or heat. It's best to cook your raw meat sooner than later when you arrive at your destination.

Always remember to keep food out of the temperature danger zone of 4°C to 60°C (40°F to 140°F). Harmful bacteria can grow in as little as two hours in this temperature range, so don't keep food out for longer than two hours during the summer.

2. Get Cooking
No such thing as enjoying Beef Tartar when eating outdoors! It's best to cook any ground beef and poultry thoroughly and use a digital food thermometer to ensure food has reached a safe internal temperature to avoid foodborne illnesses. You can still enjoy a medium rare steak if eaten immediately. Colour alone is not a reliable indicator that meat is safe to eat. Meat can turn brown before all the bacteria -- such as E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter -- are killed by heat.

Safe temperatures for food are:
Ground meat - 165°F (74°C)
Medium done steak - 145°F (63°C)
Fish - 145°F (63°C)
Poultry - 165°F (74°C)
Pork - 145°F (63°C)

Remember to always clean your digital food thermometer in warm, soapy water between temperature readings to avoid cross-contamination.

3. Burn, Baby, Burn
While that charred taste of something straight off the grill is delicious, you don't want to burn your food, as it can cause carcinogens. Marinating meat creates barrier from heat and helps to prevent flare ups, which reduces carcinogens. Other ways to prevent flare ups include keeping a water bottle on hand to douse flare ups, trimming excess fat from meat before cooking, and moving meat to indirect heat (the part of the grill where the flame is off) to cook.

4. Keep It Clean
Not only do we have to be careful how we cook; we also need to ensure there is no cross-contamination.

It seems basic, but it makes a big difference -- always wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap before and after handling food. If you're eating outdoors, at a campsite, or somewhere without running water, make sure you keep a large water bottle, hand soap and paper towels on hand. Don't use dish cloths -- they spread bacteria. Be careful with hand sanitizer if cooking near flames -- the alcohol in it can be a hazard!

Use a clean plate when taking food off the grill. Never put ready-to-eat or cooked food on a plate that was used for raw meat, poultry or seafood; always use a new plate, otherwise you run the risk of getting ill from cross-contamination. Also, keep several sets of clean utensils, cutting boards, and plates on hand -- assigning different colours for raw and cooked food helps!

Also, many of us are unaware that other foods like fruits and veggies can spread bacteria which can be found on the skin of the produce. Ensure you wash at home before bringing to the beach or on your picnic.

5. Foods To Pass Or Pack For Your Picnic
Pass
1. Potato and egg salad, or creamy coleslaw
2. Ice cream-based treats
3. Chocolate

Pack:
1. Pasta or Bean Salad (no mayonnaise)
2. Hard cheeses and crackers
3. Veggie and Hummus (or other non-mayo-based dips)

6. Leave The Leftovers
Cool food by using shallow containers, so that it cools quickly. Err on the side of safety when it comes to leftovers -- discard any food left out for more than one hour.

Don't ruin your day in the sun with food poisoning this summer. Take your food safety seriously when eating al fresco!