Summer Heat Vs. Summer Eats
One of the most loved elements of summer is the food – the barbecues, the fresh fruit, the grilled local corn on the cob. Nothing tops these flavors and the memories of gathering with friends and family to enjoy them.
But with outdoor eating comes some food safety issues. With the right moves though, the heat, sun, and pests don’t have to spoil your summer picnics and barbecues.
Food Safety Starts in the Kitchen
“The first thing to help avoid spoilage is to handle food safely before you even pack it up,” says Virtua nutrition coordinator, Melissa Young, RD. “Always keep raw and cooked food separate.” This means using different plates and utensils for raw food and cooked food to avoid possible contamination.
Eating healthy comes so much easier in the summer months, thanks to all of the in-season fruits and veggies. That fresh produce may carry bacteria, though, so wash all fruits and vegetables before you cut them, as the knife cutting through the food can transfer bacteria if the skin isn’t washed. Fruits and veggies, along with other perishable foods, such as meats and dairy products, must be handled extra carefully in the heat. “Most perishable foods should not stay outside for more than two hours,” Young says. “Food should only stay out for one hour if the outdoor temperature is over 90 degrees.”
Keep Food at the Right Temperature
When it comes to keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold, Young offers several helpful tips:
- Never partially cook food and then transport it, as this can allow bacteria to grow.
- To transport hot foods, wrap the container in a towel or newspaper and put in a sturdy box or heavy bag. You can use a heated grill to keep this food warm until serving or serve within one hour.
- Keep cold foods cold by packing them into an insulated cooler with lots of ice or frozen gel packs. Pack the ice or cold packs in and around the foods and use plastic wrap or aluminum foil to protect the food from water.
- Don’t take cold foods out of the cooler until you’re ready to serve or prepare them.
- Place your cooler in the shade rather than in a hot car to keep foods colder for longer.
- If you are planning to keep leftovers for later, put food back into the refrigerator or cooler within one hour of serving. The more you take something in and out of the cold, the more opportunity there is for spoilage.
When you’re setting out those barbecue essentials, don’t worry about dry foods such as rolls, bread, crackers, cakes, and cookies, which can be kept outside without spoiling. Unpeeled fresh fruit, nuts, and dried fruits hold up well outdoors, as do condiments such as ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise.
Who Invited the Bugs?
If industrious ants and other uninvited, multi-legged pests show up to your barbecue, make sure to throw away any foods they come in contact with. Bugs pick up and carry germs, so keep your food in sealed containers or covered with napkins, paper towels, or cloths to deter hungry insects.
Updated June 6, 2016