Summer Food Safety Tips

Summer Food Safety Tips

The summer months are ideal for picnics and cooking outdoors, but they also provide the ideal climate for foodborne bacteria to thrive.

Whether you’re planning a small summer cookout or a big vacation, a camping trip or a potluck dinner, it’s important to make sure your plans include food safety.

Follow these simple tips to keep your food and family safe this summer!

Grilling & Food Safety

Always begin with clean hands, no matter what you’re grilling. To avoid the spread of bacteria that causes foodborne disease, wash your hands well before and after handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood. You should always wash fruits and vegetables before preparing them. To remove any debris, gently rub fruits and vegetables under clean running water. Use a vegetable brush to scrub hard fruits and vegetables like melons and zucchini. To further decrease bacteria that may be present, dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth or paper towel. On the other hand, meat, poultry, and seafood should not be washed or rinsed. Cross-contamination risks are considerably increased if you do so.

Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods like salads, dips, and any fruits and vegetables you intend to grill. Additionally, it is not safe to use the same plate or utensils you originally used to place raw items on the grill, unless they have been fully washed and sanitized.

When grilling meat, poultry, and fish, it’s important to use a food thermometer to make sure your items are truly being cooked through to a safe minimum internal temperature. Use this handy list below to know what temperature your thermometer should reach after cooking various meats:

  • Beef, pork, lamb, and veal (steaks, roasts, and chops): 145°F (with a 3-minute rest time)
  • Ground meats (including burgers and hot dogs): 160°F
  • Whole poultry, poultry breasts, and ground poultry: 165°F
  • Fish: 145°F


Handling Food Safety on the Road

Planning ahead is key! Place perishable food in a cooler with ice or freezer packs if you’re traveling with it. Before you begin packing food, make sure you have plenty of ice or frozen gel packs on hand. If you’re bringing perishable foods with you (meat, poultry, eggs, and salads, for example) to eat on the road or cook at your vacation spot, put everything on ice in your cooler.

Pack safely. Perishable goods should be placed in the cooler straight from the refrigerator or freezer and meat/poultry can be packed while still frozen, keeping it cooler for longer. Keep in mind that a full cooler will maintain its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled. Keep raw meat and poultry wrapped separately from cooked items, as well as foods that should be consumed raw, such as fruits. It’s important to limit the times the cooler is opened, open and close the lid quickly.


Food Safety While Camping, Boating & Beaching

When camping remember to store the cooler in the shade. Cover it with a blanket, tarp, or poncho, especially one with a light hue that will reflect heat. Bring bottled water with you and always assume that rivers and streams are unsafe to drink from. Bring water purification tablets or equipment if camping in a remote place which can be found in camping supply stores. Remember to keep your hands and all utensils clean when preparing food. Bring disposable moist towelettes to clean your hands. Finally, when planning meals, think about buying and

using shelf-stable food to ensure food safety.

When boating this summer, don’t forget a cooler! Remember to not leave food out while you’re busy swimming or fishing. Food left out for more than 2 hours is dangerous and if the temperature outside is above 90 °F, the time limit is reduced to just 1 hour. Scale, gut, and clean fin fish as soon as possible after catching them if you plan on eating them. Wrap both the whole and cleaned fish in water-tight plastic and keep them refrigerated. Keep 3-4 inches of ice in the cooler’s bottom and alternate layers of fish and ice when placing them in the cooler. The fish can be cooked in 1-2 days or frozen. Eat within 3-4 days of cooking and make sure raw fish and cooked meals are kept apart.

Crabs, lobsters, and other shellfish must be cooked alive. Under damp burlap, store in a bushel or laundry basket. Crabs and lobsters are best eaten on the day of capture. Live oysters will last 7-10 days, while mussels and clams will last 4-5 days.

When at the beach, bring only the amount of food that can be eaten to avoid having leftovers. Store your food in a cooler and partially bury it in the sand, cover it with blankets, and shade it with a beach umbrella to help maintain the cool temperature. Bring along disposable moist towelettes for cleaning hands. Again, don’t eat anything that has been sitting in the sun for more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature is above 90 °F) – it’s a recipe for food poisoning and a ruined vacation!

If you have a question about meat, poultry, or egg products, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll free at 1-888-MPHotline(1-888-674-6854). The Hotline is open year-round Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m EST. Have a happy & healthy summer!



Maryann Walsh, MFN, RD, CDE
Registered Dietitian/ Consultant