Great question! Many people want to learn the tactics needed to keep their food safe, especially as the picnic and barbeque season gets into full swing. Keeping vulnerable foods cold and out of the temperature danger zone is very important to prevent food borne illness in our family and guests. This is true whether the food is served at a picnic, poolside, tailgate or family event.
Let’s talk about the temperature danger zone first. Keeping foods at the proper temperature will reduce the growth of bacteria that leads to food borne illness. The Danger Zone is the temperature range between 40°F (4.4ºC) and 140°F (60ºC), where food is most susceptible to bacterial growth.
Here are some tips for keeping foods out of the Danger Zone according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service:
- Keep cold food in the refrigerator, in coolers, or in containers on ice.
- Keep hot cooked food in the oven, in heated chafing dishes, or in preheated steam tables, warming trays and/or slow cookers.
- Use a food thermometer to verify temperatures.
- Never leave food in the Danger Zone over 2 hours; 1 hour if outside temperature is above 90°F (32.2ºC). Discard party food leftovers that have been in the danger zone or transported without refrigeration.
- Prepare foods within a day of serving or keep frozen.
- Don’t forget to wash hands frequently and use separate serving utensils, dishes and work surfaces.
- Transport your coolers in the air conditioned car rather then the trunk, which can reach 150 degrees.
Foods that pose the most risk are raw meats and poultry; homemade items that contain eggs, meat and poultry; milk and dairy foods; cut melons; and sliced tomatoes. Be careful to keep ready to eat foods (a convenience or processed food commercially prepared for ease of consumption including baked goods, salad, cut fruit, lunch meats) separate from raw foods too.
A little planning and safe food handling can prevent even mild illness ruining your family fun!