As the summer heat sizzles, so do the sounds of food on the grill as friends and family gather for barbecues and picnics. Serving safe, healthy outdoor meals can present some challenges. Check out these food safety tips that fit in with your summer activities.
Food safety temperature tips
A good guideline for food safety is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. For food that’s typically refrigerated, food safety is a concern when it’s out of safe refrigeration range, or above 40° Fahrenheit (F), for a long time. When foods are out of this safe range for two or more hours, there’s a chance bacteria will grow and can cause food-borne illness.
Meat, eggs, and dairy-based foods may be more susceptible to harmful bacteria. To safely pack refrigerated foods, use a large picnic cooler with a lot of ice or ice packs. To keep food safe once on the table, you can put the dish on top of a larger dish filled with ice. (You can use small ice cubes or even pre-freeze serving dishes filled about 1/3 with water.)
It’s also good practice to cover dishes to protect food from dust, bugs, and insects. Dish lids and covers can also help maintain the proper temperature. Shade and umbrellas are helpful, too.
For foods that are on the grill, here are a few safety tips:
- To defrost any meat, fish, or poultry, place it in the refrigerator overnight. If you defrost it on the counter, bacteria can start to grow when the food defrosts and warms beyond 40° F. This will likely happen if it’s left on your kitchen counter.
- If you marinate meat, fish, or poultry, throw away the marinade after use. Don’t use it to baste the items on the grill.
- Avoid pre-rinsing poultry. Cooking it to the proper temperatures is the best way to serve it safely. By rinsing it, you pose the risk of spreading salmonella on your countertops, kitchen sink, and dish cloths.
- Keep any meat, fish, and poultry uncooked and chilled in a container with a secure lid. If you’re tempted to partially cook it in advance, note that this can allow bacteria to flourish. Instead, cook it onsite and check the final product with a reliable meat thermometer. It’s also good practice to have a thermometer in your refrigerator and use it in your packed picnic cooler as well. Learn more about the proper cooking temperatures.
- Charring, which contains carcinogens, can occur when you’re grilling. Cooking with gas can help with temperature control and prevent charring
- Fat drippings create harmful chemicals when they splatter onto the flames. To reduce this:
- Use lean cuts of meat, chicken, fish. Grilling vegetables is a good way to add a low-fat option while increasing fiber and other nutrients.
- Wrap foods in foil packs to prevent fats from dripping into the flames.
Keep drinking water
Staying hydrated is especially important as some summer days often hit 100 degrees or above. Drinking water, or low sugar or no-sugar added beverages, is a great way to quench your thirst and keep your body well hydrated.
When you’re drinking alcohol, always add a glass of water with an alcoholic beverage because alcohol causes dehydration. Eating fruits such as watermelon will also add much-needed fluids. Keeping an insulated water bottle close by when you’re indoors or outdoors is can help remind yourself to drink water throughout the day.
Choose in-season, local produce this summer
Selecting in-season fruits and vegetables is generally more flavorful and more affordable. California summers bring a variety of nutritious produce options such as berries, corn, tomatoes, melons, asparagus, avocados, cucumbers, peaches, and nectarines. This is the perfect time to visit our local farmer’s markets. Wash produce under cool running water before serving.
This blog was written by UC Davis Health dietetic intern Catherine Johnson with review by UC Davis Health registered dietitians.