Food Safety for Summer Entertaining

Common sense and thoughtful practices will keep everybody happy and healthy.

By FamilyTime


When the weather is warm, dining outside is just about irresistible. Whether you picnic in the park or at the beach, or fire up the grill in your own backyard, there’s something about a meal taken in the fresh air that makes everything more delicious and more fun.

To keep it fun, observe food safety precautions. Here’s a refresher on preventing food-borne illness.

Food Handling Basics

Raw meat, poultry, fish and their juices can carry harmful bacteria. Once the food is properly cooked, the bacteria are destroyed. Utensils, cutting boards, bowls, platters, and other equipment that have been used with the raw ingredients can still be contaminated. It’s important to take precautions.

  • Do not use prepping tools and utensils on cooked foods or foods that will be served raw unless you wash them first. In other words, if you have used a plate to hold a raw steak before it goes on the grill, don’t put the cooked steak back on the same plate: use a clean one. If you have used a knife and cutting board to cut up tuna steaks for kabobs, don’t use the same knife and cutting board afterward to prep your salad; take a clean knife and new cutting board. (Or wash the soiled ones in hot, soapy water.)
  • Always, always, always wash all utensils, cutting boards, bowls and plates that have been in contact with meat, poultry and fish soon after using. This way, you won't mistakenly re-use an item that could be contaminated. When you wash them, use very warm, soapy water.
  • Your hands can also carry bacteria. Wash your hands frequently during food prep and cooking. Always wash them before you start prepping, and again once you have cut, seasoned and prepped your raw meat, poultry or fish.
  • Don’t reuse marinades for sauces. It's likely the marinades have been in contact with raw meat, poultry and fish and so they, too, can harbor food-borne bacteria. Either discard these marinades or boil them for at least five minutes to kill any bacteria they contain.

Safe Cooking and Serving Temperatures

Whether you are cooking outdoors or making a picnic of pre-cooked foods, keep meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy at the proper temperature. Food-borne bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels if food is held for any length of time at temperatures between 40˚ and 160˚F.

  • Prepared foods and raw ingredients should be kept chilled until you are ready to serve or cook them.
  • Cooked foods should be heated to temperatures that destroy bacteria. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking steaks, roasts and fish to at least 145 °F; pork, eggs and ground beef to at least 160 °F; and chicken to at least 165 °F.
  • Don’t guess whether your food is done to the proper temperature; an instant-read thermometer is inexpensive and easy. Even if you are cooking over a campfire or on a small portable grill, the thermometer is compact and lightweight enough to fit into any cooler, picnic hamper or backpack.
  • Ground meat should be cooked through to the proper temperature, as bacteria on the surface of the meat might have been transferred to the interior during grinding. An instant-read thermometer is the tool to use. For the safest ground meat, watch the butcher grind it or grind it yourself. This is not always possible. Look for ground beef that is evenly rosy with no discoloring.
  • If food has been out on the serving table for more than two hours, throw away any leftovers. This is particularly important if the day is very warm.

With just a few precautions and common sense, summer's food will be safe, wholesome, and totally delicious.