Summer brings out barbecue grills—and bacteria, which multiply in food faster in warm weather and can cause food poisoning (also known as foodborne illness). Following a few simple guidelines can prevent an unpleasant experience.
Wash your hands
Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. If you're eating where there’s no source of clean water, bring water, soap, and paper towels or have disposable wipes or hand sanitizer available.
Marinate food in the refrigerator
Don’t marinate on the counter—marinate in the refrigerator. If you want to use marinade as a sauce on cooked food, save a separate portion in the refrigerator. Do not reuse marinade that contacted raw meat, poultry, or seafood on cooked food unless you bring it to a boil first.
Keep raw food separate
Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a separate cooler or securely wrapped at the bottom of a cooler so their juices won’t contaminate already prepared foods or raw produce. Don't use a plate or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood for anything else unless you wash them first in hot, soapy water. Have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side for serving.
Cook food thoroughly
Use a food thermometer to make sure food is cooked thoroughly to destroy harmful bacteria. Refer to the Safe Minimum Temperatures chart for safe minimum internal temperatures for foods. Partial precooking in the microwave oven or on the stove is a good way to reduce grilling time—just make sure the food goes immediately on the preheated grill to finish cooking.
Keep hot food hot and cold food cold
- Keep hot food at 140° F or above until served. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill, or wrap well and place in an insulated container.
- Keep cold food at 40° F or below until served. Keep cold perishable food in a cooler until serving time. Keep coolers out of direct sun and avoid opening the lid often.
- Cold foods can be placed directly on ice or in a shallow container set in a pan of ice. Drain off water as ice melts and replace ice frequently.
- Don’t let hot or cold perishables sit out for longer than two hours, or one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90° F. When reheating fully cooked meats, grill to 165° F or until steaming hot.
- Transport food in the passenger compartment of the car where it’s cooler—not in the trunk.
Put these items on your list
These non-food items are indispensable for a safe barbecue.
- Food thermometer
- Several coolers: one for beverages (which will be opened frequently), one for raw meats, poultry, and seafood, and another for cooked foods and raw produce
- Ice or frozen gel packs for coolers
- Jug of water, soap, and paper towels for washing hands
- Enough plates and utensils to keep raw and cooked foods separate
- Foil or other wrap for leftovers
Each year, roughly 1 in 6 people in the United States gets sick from eating contaminated food. Each of those illnesses represents something that went wrong somewhere along the pathway from a farm to our table. Behind these illnesses are familiar culprits (like Salmonella) and causes (like poor food safety practices in farms, factories, restaurants, or homes).
Salmonella are bacteria that cause over one million illnesses each year. This “bug” causes more hospitalizations and deaths than any other type of germ found in food and $365 million in direct medical costs each year. At CDC, we’re concerned that Salmonella infections have not declined in 15 years. So, how does Salmonella sneak into foods, what foods do they get into, and what can be done?
How does Salmonella get into foods?
Simply put—it gets into food through the poop of animals, such as cows, birds, and mice. Because the natural home for Salmonella bacteria is in the gut of these animals, their poop becomes a carrier of the germ if it gets into food or water. For example, if water used to irrigate a field has animal poop in it, the water can contaminate the food growing in the field.
Contamination can also occur where food is being made. For instance, a tainted ingredient can get on equipment, floors, storage bins, or someone’s hands and then spread to other food. In fact, a cutting board or knife that has germs on it can contaminate other foods and lead to food poisoning.
What foods does Salmonella get into?
One reason why it’s tough to reduce Salmonella infections is because the germ makes its way into so many different types of foods. Salmonella can contaminate meats, poultry, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and even processed foods such as peanut butter.
What can be done?
You can’t smell or see Salmonella in or on food. That’s why it’s important to do everything that you can to be food safe at home:
- Follow the tried-and-true behaviors of CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK, and CHILL. When it comes to Salmonella, this means:
- Wash your hands, utensils, cutting boards, and other surfaces before and after handling meat and poultry.
- Thoroughly wash fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Assume that raw chicken and other meat have Salmonella and don’t allow them to contaminate surfaces and other foods, such as produce.
- Don’t wash meat, poultry, and eggs! This can actually spread Salmonella to other foods.
- Cook meat, poultry, and eggs thoroughly to safe temperatures.
- Avoid unpasteurized dairy products (including soft cheeses) and juices.
- Make sure shellfish are cooked or treated for safe eating.
- Report suspected food poisoning to your local health department.
- Never prepare food for others if you have diarrhea or vomiting.
- Pay attention to food recall notices. Never serve or eat food that has been recalled.
You can also support policies that encourage good food safety practices among farmers, grocery stores, and places that make, sell, or serve food.
For more information, check out these resources:
- Food Poisoning: Salmonella
- CDC Vital Signs report: Making Food Safer to Eat
Some say that April showers bring May flowers. Recently, we've seen that spring and summer storms often have much more serious consequences, such as power outages from wind and water damage.
If your power goes out, knowing what to do with the food in your refrigerator and freezer can help you stay healthy. The last thing you need after a weather emergency is a case of food poisoning!
- Make sure that you have appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer. That’s the best way to be sure that your food is safe after a power outage.
- Know where you can get dry ice or block ice.
- Keep on hand a few days worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling
When the Power Goes Out
The most important thing to remember is: keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed!
- A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if the door is kept closed.
- A full freezer will keep temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full). If your freezer is not full, group packages so they form an “igloo” to protect each other. Place them to one side or on a tray so that if they begin thawing, their juices won’t get on other foods.
- If the power is going to be out for an extended period of time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.
When the Power Returns
Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Discard any perishable food (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or leftovers) that has been above 40° F for two hours or more.
You will have to evaluate each item separately. Discard any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture, or feels warm to the touch. When in doubt, throw it out! These charts help you evaluate specific foods:
With frozen food, check for ice crystals! The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 °F or below.
Never taste a food to determine its safety!
For more information about food safety in an emergency, check out these resources: