It’s no secret that food safety protocols typically fall by the wayside during the summer. Grilling, cookouts, and recent outdoor dining mandates mean that food is being prepared and consumed outside. Unfortunately, this is also the reason why summer is the peak season for foodborne illness.
It’s easy to become more relaxed and distracted while you put together a feast for your family and loved ones or customers. As a result, you may become less concerned about basic food safety guidelines. Examples include not keeping track of how long food is being left sitting out or if surfaces are being disinfected.
Aside from this, there’s another reason why E. Coli, listeria, salmonella, and other foodborne diseases love the summer – they are able to multiply at lightning speed in hot temperatures. When you combine 80-100 degree weather and a lapse in food safety protocol, it’s the perfect combination for infection and sickness.
To keep you and your loved ones or customers safe, continue reading to learn about simple food safety tips.
COMMON FOOD SAFETY MISTAKES
It seems natural to place a plate of raw chicken on an outside table while you get the grill fired up and running. But as innocent as it seems, this is a food safety violation. Most food safety mistakes are honest blunders that occur due to a lack of knowledge or proper training. However, even the smallest food misstep can get someone very very sick.
Top food safety offenses include:
- Leaving raw meat out of the refrigerator for extended amounts of time. This allows harmful bacteria to breed in your poultry, beef, or seafood.
- Leaving cooked food uncovered or unrefrigerated beyond safe times. Doing this exposes food to bugs and creates an environment for illness-causing pathogens to thrive.
- Not properly sanitizing and disinfecting food prep surfaces and tools. This accidentally spreads unsafe juices and particles between counters, knives, cutting boards, plates, tongs, and other surfaces or tools you use for food preparation.
- Using the same food prep tools and surfaces for all foods. This mistake creates an environment where bacteria and viruses aren’t contained to specific areas and are more likely to spread.
- Sitting food out in the sun. This increases the speed at which pathogens multiply and decreases the window for safe consumption.
POOR FOOD SAFETY CAN SICKEN DOZENS AT A TIME
Since it’s pretty standard for several people to share dishes and meals with others, the true impact of a food outbreak can be wide-spread. Let’s say a bad batch of deviled eggs gets pass around to guests at a cookout.
It won’t be long before each person who consumed the egg falls ill – which could be 5 people or more. This is also how large food production and manufacturing facilities are able to sicken thousands of people at a time with one spoiled item.
CAN’T MISS FOOD SAFETY TIPS
If you’re weary of cooking or eating outdoors now, don’t be! You can still enjoy these warm weather months and everything summer has to offer. All you need to do is remember and follow the CDC’s simple guidelines on 4 steps for food safety. In addition to that, reference these tips to ensure your celebrations stay safe and healthy for everyone involved.
1. COOK FOOD THOROUGHLY
Meat and veggies are delicious – but dangerous if not prepared correctly. Unless you’re a chef, you may not know when your food is cooked all the way through. Don’t be too cool to use a food thermometer to ensure food is cooked to the right temperature, either. The CDC’s recommended cooking temperatures are:
- 145°F for whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, veal, and fish.
- 160°F for hamburgers and other ground beef, all poultry, and meats like hot dogs or sausages.
For added protection, store food at 140°F or warmer until you serve it. This ensures bacteria don’t multiply and cause sickness.
2. STORE FOOD AT A SAFE TEMPERATURE
Sorry to burst your bubble, but once you cook your food to the correct temperature, your work isn’t done. Food safety doesn’t stop once you’re done preparing your meal. After you’ve carefully prepped, cooked, and served up some delicious food, you need to be sure to store food within the correct temperature range.
Don’t leave food out for extended periods of time. Of course, during summer events, you’ll want to set up a buffet or a spread. But all your hard work will go to waste if it sits out unrefrigerated for too long. Timing will vary based on the outdoor temperature and if the food is in the sun.
However, a good rule of thumb is to freeze or refrigerate food within two hours of cooking it, or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees. Be sure to store food in a refrigerator that is at least 40 degrees or cooler.
3. DON’T LEAVE FOOD OUT, ESPECIALLY OUTDOORS
Leaving food uncovered exposes it to debris, viruses, insects, and of course, pathogens. Leaving food uncovered increases the likelihood of a dish becoming contaminated.
Standard practice is to leave food out for no more than two hours, regardless if you’re indoors or outdoors. Although leaving food out may be more convenient, putting it in the fridge is the best step you can take to prevent food poisoning.
4. HAVE COLOR-CODED PREP MATERIALS FOR DIFFERENT TYPES OF PRODUCE AND MEATS
Using a color-coded prep system for produce and meats helps to prevent cross-contamination and all of the dangers that come with it. You can implement this by designating colored cutting boards, bowls, and utensils for different foods.
An example would be to use a red cutting board and for chicken only, green cutting boards for vegetables, and blue cutting boards for fruit. This is a quick and easy way to avoid moving bacteria between surfaces and foods.
5. SMELL + EXAMINE FOOD BEFORE EATING
We’ve all done it before. You open a container or a gallon of milk and take a whiff to see if it’s still good to eat. It should go without saying that if something smells funny, you shouldn’t eat it. A telltale sign of food being bad is a sour, rancid odor.
Food can start to smell if it is expired or has been left out too long. Believe it or not, this is nature’s way of trying to stop you from making a bad decision. Another consideration after smell is appearance. Green or yellow patches and white fuzz is also a sign of spoiled food. Just like with smell, if something looks funny, don’t eat it.
6. DON’T EAT FOOD PAST THE EXPIRATION DATE
Nothing is more frustrating than reaching into your refrigerator, with a plan to make the most wonderful summer side dish ever, and realizing that the key ingredient that you thought you had on hand has actually expired.
If an item is past the expiration date, throw it out. Consuming food past the expiration or “best by” date can have consequences in the form of nausea, diarrhea, and stomach pains. Toss the expired item with no regrets.
7. SANITIZE AND DISINFECT SURFACE AND MATERIALS AFTER EACH USE
While meal prepping for the week or getting dinner ready for the evening, it’s easier to move through to the entire process using the same utensils and surfaces and rinsing or wiping them every now and then.
However, not sanitizing and disinfecting them will result in cross-contamination and allow germs to spread – leading to sickness. Using quick and easy disinfecting wipes are probably the quickest, easiest way to follow food safety protocols.
But beware that all wipes aren’t created equal. It’s important to note that some wipes contain bleach, alcohol, and ammonia that can damage your tools and surfaces like wood and stainless steel, which are commonly found in kitchens and food facilities.
Wipes are a great way to ensure you’re following food-safety protocols, but be sure you’re choosing the right wipe for your needs.
SAFE FOOD IS GOOD FOOD
Most people won’t realize that they either didn’t follow proper food safety protocols or were the victim of someone else not following food safety protocols until they get sick. And by that time, it’s too late to go back in time and do something differently.
This is why following food safety steps, no matter what time of year, cannot be overlooked or forgotten. Safe food starts with safe food practices. Implement these tips to keep your food not only delectable and tasty but most importantly, safe for consumption.