What are safe temperatures for food eaten outside in hot weather? Cold foods should be kept at 40 degrees or less; hot foods should be cooked to 140 degrees or more.

Safely eating outdoors

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I know what will be firing up this Wednesday, Independence Day. Grills all across American will be used in full force cooking everything from meat to vegetables to fruits. Most of us have probably already moved our eating to the great outdoors. But summertime picnics and barbecues are conducted in warm weather, and that means bacteria in food get happy and multiply. And that increases the possibility for food borne illnesses. The most important thing to remember is keeping foods at safe temperatures – in other words, hot foods kept hot, and cold foods kept cold.

What are safe temperatures for food eaten outside in hot weather? Cold foods should be kept at 40 degrees or less; hot foods should be cooked to 140 degrees or more. These foods should not stay out in the hot weather for more than one hour, especially when the temperature outside is over 90 degrees.

Pack up food properly for your picnic or cookout to keep it safe:

  • Use roomy coolers with lots of space for plenty of ice or frozen-solid ice packs.
  • Pack up food in small containers to keep the food thoroughly chilled. And be sure the food is completely chilled before putting it into the cooler.
  • Take food out in small batches, and replenish with chilled food from the cooler.
  • Since everyone seems to go for beverages often on a hot day, keep the drinks in their own cooler to minimize the opening of coolers containing food.
  • Store coolers in the shade or under the picnic tables.
  • Don’t forget the disposable hand wipes, and tablecloths for covering picnic tables and eating surfaces. And of course, trash bags for easy clean-up.

A few reminders to keep grilling safe:

  • Marinate meats in the refrigerator or keep in the cooler with ice packs.
  • You can reduce the grill time by partially cooking the meat in your kitchen, and then finish off the cooking on the grill.
  • Be sure to use clean utensils and serving platters once the meat is cook. You don’t want cross-contamination with the raw juices from the raw meat.                   

There's more picnic and cookout safety information at www.fda.gov.

Recipes to try:

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About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years and currently works at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.