Summer Food Safety Tips

One of the best parts about going to a summer picnic, cookout or tailgate party is the food. Who doesn’t love a hot-off-the-grill burger with classic sides such as potato salad and coleslaw? Without proper handling, they can also lead to a nasty case of food poisoning. “Hot, humid weather helps bacteria flourish,” says Alison Spurgeon, Registered Dietitian with Shawnee Mission Medical Center (SMMC).“Also, many summer activities don’t allow easy access to a kitchen or proper refrigeration and hand washing facilities are often limited.”

Five tips to stay safe Spurgeon recommends the following food safety tips:

  • Keep your hands and surfaces clean. It’s important that you frequently wash your hands before and after handling food, and wipe down all surfaces with hot, soapy water. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. “If that isn’t possible, consider using anti-bacterial towelettes and hand sanitizer to stay germ-free,” Spurgeon suggests.
  • Use separate cutting boards. Avoid cross-contamination by using separate cutting boards for meat, vegetables and fruit. If you only use one board, make sure you wash it well in hot, soapy water between prepping different types of food. Also, make sure you wash your board between prepping raw meat and slicing cooked meat.
  • Cook your food to a safe temperature. To kill harmful bacteria, you need to cook your meat to the proper temperature. Using a meat thermometer can help ensure your food is safe to eat. In general, beef, pork, lamb and veal should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees.
  • Store perishable food in a refrigerator or insulated cooler. In addition to meat, mayo-laden items such as potato and pasta salads need to be kept cold to avoid spoiling. If you don’t have access to a refrigerator, pack food in an insulted cooler with plenty of ice until you’re ready to eat. These items should be stored at below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for proper food safety.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. Any perishables that are left out for more than two hours are unsafe to eat and need to be thrown out. If you’re not sure how long something has been sitting out, throw it away. When it comes to food poisoning, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Is it food poisoning?

Food poisoning symptoms, such as stomach cramping, diarrhea and nausea, may set in as soon as a few hours after eating contaminated food. Although rest and drinking plenty of fluids is usually enough, some cases may require antibiotics or intravenous replacement of fluids. It’s especially important to seek medical attention if you are pregnant or have a compromised immune system as these conditions can make it more difficult to fight off food-related illnesses.“A lot of times food poisoning will just run its course, but I always recommend people contact their doctor to be on the safe side,” says Spurgeon.

(This valuable collection of tips is courtesy of the Shawnee Mission Medical Center health library. Visit for more entertaining and informative health information.)