Healthy Habits

Food Safety Practices

From the Dietitian’s Desk
With Becca Rick, MS, RD

The summer season is in full swing and makes for the perfect occasion to take social gatherings outside. Sharing food is likely a primary component of many of these festivities. With warmer temperatures and celebrations embracing the elements of the outdoors, it is important to keep up with best food safety practices to prevent putting anyone’s health at stake.

Let’s explore ways to minimize the risk of foodborne illness and cross-contamination and ensure the next picnic, potluck, or backyard BBQ goes off without a hitch.

Wash Hands

  • Wash the entirety of your hands, wrists, and around fingernails with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before preparing or handling any food items and when switching from one food preparation task to another (for example, between working with raw meat to chopping up produce, or between cracking eggs to measuring flour).
  • Use warm or cold water instead of hot water, as this can cause cracks in the skin and allows germs easier access into the body. Dry thoroughly to avoid the skin drying out and cracking.
  • Touched a phone or another screen? Wash hands each time after interacting with these items to avoid the transfer of bacteria to the delicious dish you are whipping up.

Prepare in Advance to Avoid Risk

Taking raw food items to be cooked later at a BBQ?

  • Ensure all foods are individually wrapped or placed in sealed containers to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Keep raw meats in a cooler separate from coolers containing produce, prepared foods, and drinks.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables in advance to save time and avoid a situation where lack of access to clean, running water prevents these items from being rinsed appropriately.

Frustration-Free Temperature Regulation

Follow the simple rule of keeping hot items hot and cold items cold, meaning these should be packed separately from one another.

Keep it Cool

  • Pack each cooler about ¾ full with food items, while reserving the last ¼ for ice packs.
  • To ensure foods stays cold longer, chill foods for a few hours before transporting to their destination.
  • Keep the cooler with cold items in the back seat of an air-conditioned car, instead of a warm trunk, to better maintain its temperature.
  • Bring a thermometer to ensure the food temperature does not rise above 40°F.

Handle the Heat

  • Pack any hot food items in an insulated container and avoid opening until it is time to serve, as this will help trap in the heat.
  • Wrap hot food items in a towel to better lock in warmth and keep foods at the right temperature until serving time.
  • Use a thermometer to ensure the food temperature has not fallen under 140°F to avoid bacteria growth.

Don’t Skimp on the Serving Utensils and Dishes

Pack extra utensils and serving platters, especially if preparing food on location to avoid cross-contamination.

Store it Away for Use Another Day

Food should not sit out within the “danger zone” between 40-140°F for more than two hours, as this encourages bacteria to multiply and can lead to foodborne illness.

**Note: The hope is for social gatherings to be enjoyed this summer, and it is still recommended to follow local guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Precautions may include wearing gloves while preparing food, reducing the number of people that are prepping food, having extra hand sanitizer placed on and around the serving area, wearing a mask if unable to keep a 6’ distance between those not in the same household, and sitting out when sick or someone in the same household is sick.

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