Picture this: Relaxed al fresco lunches, backyard barbecues with friends, and simple snacks with the family car camping. What you see as summer fun, bacteria and viruses also see as a raging good time.
Around 48 million people will get sick from a foodborne illness this year, according to the CDC. Hot weather is the perfect environment for bacteria to flourish, so it’s especially important during the summer months to make sure you’re keeping your food safe.
So what can you do to prevent those gnarly nights camped out in the bathroom?
Here are 7 ways to make sure your food stays safe when it’s hot out:
1. Keep things cool on the road
If you’re headed on our a car adventure, keep your cooler near the air-conditioning, rather in the trunk or in the direct path on sunlight.
2. Keep hands clean
Always wash your hands before and after handling food—and during if you’re handing meats or swapping between ingredients. Just because you’re eating outdoors doesn’t dismiss you of this good habit. Pack hand wipes for those times when you’ll touch your food with your hands, but no sink is nearby.
3. Invest in separate coolers
If you’re using coolers, whether at home or on the road, pack multiple. Keep one with non-perishables or those that can handle a little warmth like bottles of water, juice boxes, and fruit or carrot sticks. You have permission to go in and out of this cooler as you like. Then, pack a second cooler with foods that you’ll use later or perishables like meats to grill or casserole dishes.
4. Shop smart
As you circle the supermarket, don’t swoop in for the frozen foods until you’re ready to head to checkout. This reduces the amount of time they’re exposed to warmer air. Then get them home and into the freezer as quickly as possible.
5. Defrost food slowly
Foods defrosted in the fridge are less vulnerable to bacteria growth. Plus they’re protected from insets and other pests.
6. Fill coolers properly
A fully packed cooler bag will keep foods at a safe temperature for about 4 hours. If you have gaps, full with fruit, additional ice packs, or extra beverages.
7. Don’t be afraid to toss
Foods can stay out for about 2 hours when it’s less than 80ºF outside. If the temperature rises much above that, go with the 1-hour rule. Uncertain how long that food has been out? Just toss it. No food is worth putting yourself or your family in danger.