Norman Regional Health System

Friday, July 21, 2023

Summertime is here, and that means it's the perfect season for picnics, pool parties and cooking delicious meals outdoors. These outdoor gatherings allow us to come together with family and friends, enjoying the warm weather and tasty summer staples. However, it's essential to remember that higher temperatures also bring an increased risk of foodborne illnesses due to the rapid growth of bacteria.

To ensure your outdoor meals are both enjoyable and safe, Norman Regional's Laura O’Hara MS, RD/LD, a Registered Dietitian provides you with some valuable food safety tips.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), bacteria are present everywhere around us, including in the soil, air, water and even in the bodies of people and animals. These microorganisms thrive and multiply faster during the warm and humid summer months.

When grilling or dining outside, we often lack the convenient food safety controls available in our kitchens, such as refrigeration, washing facilities and thermometers. Therefore, it becomes crucial to educate ourselves about food safety practices to protect our loved ones from any potential health risks.

One of the simplest ways to reduce health risks associated with outdoor food preparation is by opting for ready-to-eat food options. Consider bringing deli meat sandwiches, pre-sliced fruits and vegetables, heart-healthy trail mix and delightful dips like hummus or guacamole.

If you decide to bring raw meat, it's vital to prevent cross-contamination, O'Hara says. Ensure you pack the raw meat in separate containers, away from ready-to-eat foods and drinks. All perishable items, including raw meats, fruits and vegetables, should be stored in a cooler with a freezer pack to maintain a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

After enjoying your meal, promptly return any leftovers to the cooler within 1-2 hours, especially if the outside temperature exceeds 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Bacteria can grow rapidly within the temperature danger zone of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, all hot foods should be cooked to a minimum temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to eliminate any potential bacterial growth. Using a meat thermometer is an excellent way to ensure your food is thoroughly cooked, O'Hara says.

For those planning to cook raw meat on the grill, here are some essential safety tips to keep in mind.

Whenever possible, plan ahead by thawing meat in the refrigerator for 1-2 days before cooking or consuming. If time is a constraint, you can use the quick thawing method by placing the meat in a resealable bag and submerging it in cold water in the sink or a bowl. During food preparation, keep raw meats separate from other foods that won't be cooked. O'Hara says, always use separate utensils for handling raw and cooked foods to prevent cross-contamination. Marinating should be done in the refrigerator, as bacteria can multiply rapidly when meat is left at room temperature.

When it's time to fire up the grill, it's essential to preheat it before adding your food. Just like with an oven, preheating ensures even cooking and minimizes the risk of bacterial contamination. If you're using a charcoal grill, it's recommended to preheat the coals for approximately 20 to 30 minutes before placing your food on the grill grates.

Additionally, if you're using a propane grill, make it a habit to inspect the tank for any leaks before igniting the grill. To ensure everyone's safety, keep your grill at least 10 feet away from your home, children and pets. Lastly, don't forget about the veggies! Larger vegetables, such as corn on the cob, can be placed directly on the grill, while chopped veggies should be wrapped in aluminum foil before grilling.

USDA Safe Cooking Temps.JPG (92 KB)

These valuable food safety tips will help you and your loved ones enjoy a happy and healthy summer season. Remember to prioritize cleanliness, temperature control, and prevention of cross-contamination to ensure the safety of your outdoor meals. By implementing these simple yet effective measures, you can focus on creating lasting memories and savoring the flavors of summer. Have a fantastic summer filled with safe and enjoyable outdoor dining experiences!

This article was written in collaboration with a Registered Dietitian at Norman Regional. For personalized dietary advice or further information, please consult with a healthcare professional.