Summer Food Safety for Families

Summer time is here! It’s time for picnics by the pool. This is also the time of year when food poisoning incidents are on the rise. Every year 48 million, or 1 in 6, people will have some form of food poisoning. Coincidence? Probably not. A little prudent picnic prep can mean the difference between rushing to the pool and running to the bathroom.

Food Poisoning happens when we consume foods or beverages that are contaminated with bacteria, parasites, or viruses. The most common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramps, fever, and chills. Illness usually occurs 20 minutes to three days after consumption. Some cases have occurred up to 6 weeks after consumption.

Its onset is sudden or acute and, generally, lasts a short time. Most healthy people will recover on their own. However, food poisoning can be harmful, even fatal for those who are elderly, have compromised immune systems, or are under the age of five. Small children are at an increased risk of food poisoning and related health complications, because their immune system is still developing. They also produce less of the stomach acid that kills harmful bacteria.

These harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites can be found in the following foods:*

  • Coli – Beef and vegetable row-crops;
  • Salmonella – Seeded vegetables, fruit, chicken, beef, pork, and sprouts;
  • Campylobacter – Dairy and chicken;
  • Listeria – Fruit and dairy.


By knowing how to avoid food contamination, you could avoid this altogether. The CDC and FDA has compiled a list of the top five most common causes of contamination:†

  1. Food was allowed to sit at room temperature. Either it was not kept hot enough or cold enough to stop bacteria from growing. Example, thawing food on the counter (use the fridge) or not throwing away bags of food left in a hot car.
  2. Food was from an unsafe food source. Examples include roadside vendors or picking fruit or veggies yourself.
  3. Food was not cooked thoroughly, using a food thermometer.
  4. Food was prepared by someone with poor personal hygiene, or food was not cleaned properly.
  5. Food was prepared on or near contaminated equipment or foods.


Now back to your Summer Fun. Here are a few food safety tips for your outing:‡

Food Prep – Just as you would at home, wash your hands before preparing foods. Keep all prep surfaces clean with soap and water. Use a separate cutting board and utensils for meats versus other foods. Rinse all produce well. Use a stiff brush or scrubby and water to clean fruits and veggies with a tough outer layer (ex. melons), and remove the top few layers of leaves from leafy veggies (e.g., lettuce). Avoid fruit with broken skin, as that is a bacterial entry point.

Food Separation – Zip-lock all foods, but be sure to double-bag meats to prevent the juices from contaminating the cooler. Never place cooked meat back onto the plate where it sat raw. Never use marinade on cooked meat.

Grill with Skill – Germs are killed during cooking. Take along your meat thermometer. Cooking time will vary, based on your meat choices. Optimum internal cook temperatures are as follows:

  • Roasts, steaks, chops, and other solid cuts of meat (beef, veal, pork, and lamb), 145°F (63°C) at a minimum, and until the juices run clear—let it rest 3 minutes before eating;
  • Ground meats (beef, veal, pork, or lamb), 160°F (71°C) at a minimum and until it’s no longer pink;
  • Ground chicken or turkey, 165°F (74°C);
  • Chicken and turkey, 165°F (74°C) and until it’s no longer pink (be sure to check chicken and turkey in several places to be sure it’s fully cooked);
  • Fish, 145°F (63°C) and until it is opaque and flaky when separated with a fork.

Keep it Cool – Travel with coolers in an air-conditioned vehicle. Avoid placing coolers in the hot trunk. At your function, store the coolers in a shaded location and check the ice frequently. Cold food should be served cold and hot food should be hot. Bacteria thrives in lukewarm foods (between 40°F and 140°F). Keep perishables in an ice-packed cooler at about 40°F, and drinks in a separate cooler. Perishables will stay colder longer in a cooler that is opened less frequently.

Time Out, Throw it Out – Watch the clock once food is served. If temps outside are below 90°F, food should be okay for up to an hour. After that, store it in the coolers or throw it out. Discard any perishable foods if they have been out for two hours at any temperature.

‡ Provided by Bert Welch of Souix CARES