Include Safe Food Handling in Your Summer Events!

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During the summer months, it is important to take extra precautions and practice safe food handling. The warmer weather conditions may be ideal for outdoor picnics, barbecues, and road trips, but they also provide a perfect environment for bacteria and other pathogens in food to multiply rapidly and cause foodborne illness or “food poisoning.”

Harmful bacteria grow quickly at temperatures between 70 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Since bacteria also need moisture to flourish, hot and humid summer weather often provides the ideal circumstances for harmful bacteria to quickly multiply in food.

Mayonnaise is often thought to be a common cause of foodborne illness. Mayonnaise is made with acid (vinegar or lemon juice), so it actually tends to inhibit bacterial growth. However, the combination of hot weather and moist foods that contain mayonnaise can be a source of foodborne illness. The source of contamination is usually bacteria in the meat, poultry, fish or eggs that are mixed with mayonnaise. When these foods are kept at warm temperatures for an extended period of time, bacteria will grow quickly.

Remember, in hot weather (above 90 degree Fahrenheit), food should never sit out for more than one hour. Perishable food must be refrigerated within one hour in hot weather and within two hours if temperatures are below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Discard any food left that is left out longer than this.

Increased outside activities means more people are cooking outside at picnics, barbecues, and camping trips. The safety controls that a kitchen provides – thermostat-controlled cooking, refrigeration, and washing facilities – are often not available. It is critical to follow the four food safety messages in warm weather, even when traveling:

CLEAN – Wash hands and surfaces often.

SEPARATE – Don’t cross-contaminate!

COOK – Cook to proper temperature.

CHILL – Refrigerate promptly!

Always use coolers when taking perishable foods on the road! Here are some helpful tips for packing your cooler:

  • Pack your cooler just before you hit the road. If you pack meat and poultry while it is still frozen it will stay colder longer.
  • Pack foods in your cooler in reverse-use order – pack foods first that you are likely to use last. By doing this, you avoid having to unpack and repack the cooler along the way.
  • Pack plenty of ice and/or freezer packs to ensure a constant cold temperature. A full cooler will maintain a cold temperature longer than one that is partially filled.
  • When traveling, transport the cooler in the air-conditioned passenger compartment of your car, rather than in a hot trunk. Keep the cooler out of direct sunlight. When outdoors, keep your cooler covered with a blanket or tarp.
  • Keep drinks in a separate cooler from foods. The beverage cooler will be opened frequently while the food cooler stays closed.
  • Take perishable foods in the smallest quantity needed – pack only the amount of food you think you will use. Consider packing non-perishable foods and snacks that do not need refrigeration.

Include safe food handling in all your summer plans!

Adapted from: Partnership for Food Safety Education, Holiday Food Safety Success Kit

North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Cleveland County Center, for more information on food and nutrition and food safety, contact Nancy Abasiekong by phone: 704-482-4365, by e-mail:, or by mail: 130 South Post Road, Suite 1, Shelby, NC 28152