Don’t Make Foodborne Illness the “Life of the Party” — Think Food Safety

by | Jun 11, 2022 | Blog

Scene of picnic with basket, blanket and bookLong summer days and warm nights are the perfect setting for picnics, road trips, music festivals … and foodborne illness. Why the connection? As the temperatures rise, so do the occasions for serving food outdoors. If basic rules for handing food are not part of the plan, an unexpected guest could show up! Make sure this summer, the silent guests of bacteria and foodborne illness are not the “life of the party”! Think Food Safety first!

A Gentle Reminder

Hand washing and food safety have been “front and center” over the past three years but perhaps we have forgotten why food safety basics are so important — pandemic or not! Here are the facts:

  • Foodborne related diseases affect almost one in 10 people globally every year.
  • An estimated one of six  persons in the U.S. (or 48 million) get sick annually resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths from foodborne illnesses.1
  • Anyone can get sick from a foodborne illness, but like COVID-19, those at high risk —adults over age 65, children under five, those with compromised immune systems and pregnant women — are more susceptible.2

Regardless of how our food is grown or where, the zero risk of microbiological hazards like bacteria, parasites or viruses, is not possible according to a Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) report.3 But we can control the risk by following the basic steps of food preparation — clean, separate, cook and chill — any time of the year, but especially during warm weather.

The Basic Rules

Whether we’re serving food indoors or outside, the basic rules remain the same. Consumer research over the years from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) reflect that more than half of us have concerns about food safety issues such as contamination, food borne illness and food (especially meat) being cooked to safe internal temperatures. But our own practices don’t always reflect our concerns! The IFIC survey showed washing hands and cleaning cutting boards were top of mind for most consumers. However, less than half used different cutting boards for fresh meat and produce (resulting in major cross-contamination) and only a third used a food thermometer (despite concerns for safe meat temperatures!)4 So, how do your food prep practices line up with the basic rules?5

Here’s the Rules for Summer Party Planning 101

Rule #1 — Clean Everything!

  • Hand washing has been “top of mind” over the past few years and it’s still in vogue. When preparing food, wash hands before, during and after food preparation! Dry hands on a separate towel (not the one for dishes) or paper towel.
  • Wash all produce (whether you eat the skin or not) thoroughly under running water before preparing and/or eating. This includes produce grown at home or bought from a grocery store or farmers’ market. And whether it’s organically grown or not, produce still needs washing. If the produce’s surface is rough like an avocado or melon, use a vegetable brush to lightly scrub the surface without bruising.
  • Why the importance? Remember those salmonella outbreaks connected with cantaloupes? The cantaloupe, itself, wasn’t contaminated. The problem occurred when dirt and bacteria from the soil adhered to the skin of the fruit and was not removed through washing. When the cantaloupe or any melon or fruit is cut, the knife can transfer the bacteria. No fancy products are needed. Tap water works fine. Dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel.
  • When packing washed produce for picnics, store in a separate container or cooler before serving. There is one exception to this rule. Packaged fruits and vegetables that are labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed,” or “triple washed” need not be washed again.6

Rule #2 — Separate Raw and Cooked Food

  • Raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs can spread germs.7 Always use separate cutting boards for fresh meat and produce. When packing items for outdoor gatherings, keep the items in separate, leak proof containers … and even different coolers. Remember: the two shall never meet!
  • The same rule applies to grilling: always use a different platter (and utensil) for cooked meats, seafood or chicken than used for the raw product. This will help prevent the spread of bacteria.6

Rule #3 — Cook and Keep Hot!

  • Safe cooking temperature chart from the FDABuy an instant read food thermometer and use it to make sure foods are cooked to an internal temperature that kills germs. A finger touch or taste doesn’t guarantee correct temperature! Hot foods need to be at least 140 degrees. Reheat leftovers to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
  • To keep foods hot for away-from-home gatherings, wrap them in aluminum foil or other containers and store in insulated container until serving.
  • When serving hot foods outside or in, remember the two-hour rule. Foods should not sit out for more than two hours. If the food is outside and it is above 90 degree, then limit the time to one hour. Even though we may not want to throw away food, if it’s left out too long, the cost of getting sick can be pricier!

Rule #4 — Chill It … and Chill Out

  • Keep cold food cold. Always refrigerate perishable food and leftovers within two hours whether you’re indoors or outside. Exception is when temperature is 90 degrees or above, the one-hour limit applies.5
  • If you have a large quantity to store, like soup, divide into shallow pans to allow for quick and even cooling. Cooling any cooked food at room temperature before storing in the refrigerator is not recommended … regardless of what you’ve been told.
  • For outdoor gatherings, keep cold food in a separate cooler with ice or frozen gel packs at 40 degrees. Entrée items like burgers, steaks, chicken and seafood can be packed while frozen, so they will stay colder over a longer period of time. Using one cooler for only perishable foods is the key to maintaining those cold temperatures.6

The Finishing Touch

Keeping food safe and out of the danger zone — between 40 and 140 degrees — is the best finishing touch for any summertime gatherings. By following the basic rules of food safety, we can ensure that our uninvited bacteria “guests” will not multiply. Let’s keep the “life of the party” in the moment with our friends and family, not afterwards! Think food safety first!


1. “Employee Health and Food Safety Checklist for Human and Animal Food Operations During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” produced by the Food and Drug Administration and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, August 11, 2020.
2. “Food Safety Education Month,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 30, 2021.
3. “About Foodborne Illness,” Partnership for Food Safety Education.
4. “Consumer Survey: Trends, Habits and Attitudes Related to Food Safety,” Food Insight, September 2, 2020.
5. “4 Steps to Food Safety: Chill — Refrigerate and Freeze Food Properly,” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
6. “Handling Food Safely While Eating Outdoors,” U.S. Food & Drug Administration
7. “Foods That Can Cause Food Poisoning,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 22, 2022.