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Keep Food “Cool for the Summer” to Avoid Foodborne Illness

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Cooler on grass

One of the best things about the summer is finally getting to enjoy the warm weather outside! Backyard barbecues and picnics just for you and your household can be a great way to get outside while staying safe. But rising temperatures can also bring food safety risks. During warm weather it’s even more important to make sure your food is safe by keeping it “cool for the summer.”

Normally, perishable foods can be left out for only two hours before they need to be chilled or discarded. That keeps your food out of the “Danger Zone” for too long; germs that cause foodborne illness can grow rapidly in temperatures between 40 and 140°F. But in the summer, hot and humid weather creates an ideal environment for bacteria to grow even more quickly. When the temperature outside is above 90°F, food is only safe outside for one hour. If you’re planning on spending hours in the sun, then follow these tips to keep your food “cool for the summer.”

“Cool” Tip #1: Bring on the Cold (Sources)

When you’re serving food outside, extra cold sources are a must to keep everything cool. Pack coolers with bags of ice, gel packs or even frozen water bottles so that your food will stay cold and safe for as long as possible. Keep an appliance thermometer in your cooler to make sure it’s keeping your food below 40°F during all your summer fun.

“Cool” Tip #2: Pack It Tight

Full coolers will keep your perishable foods cold and safe for much longer than half full ones. Stock up your coolers before you go outside so that you can keep everything at a safe temperature all day long. If you don’t fill your cooler with food, fill the rest with extra ice. You can also pack foods when they are frozen to maintain a nice, cold temperature for your snacks, even when it’s hot outside.

“Cool” Tip #3: Open and Close It Quick

When you’re having fun in the sun, you may want a nice, cold drink to stay cool. Because beverage coolers tend to be opened more frequently, keep your drinks in a separate cooler from your perishable foods. For snacks, only take out what you need at a time, and keep the rest chilling for later. And never leave your cooler open for long!

“Cool” Tip #4: When in Doubt, Throw It Out

The last thing you want to bring inside from the outdoors is a case of foodborne illness. If your food has been out for a while, it may not be safe to repack and eat later. Don’t hesitate to throw away any food that has been left out in the sun for too long. Keep coolers in the shade so they can stay cool and keep your food cool, too.

“Cool” Tip #5: Remember Groceries and Food Deliveries, Too

Don’t forget to keep your groceries and food deliveries cool when the weather is warm. If you go to the store, bring a cooler or cold storage bag with cold sources to keep your food safe until you get home. If you get groceries or meal kits delivered, track their progress so you can bring them inside immediately. Check that the temperature of your perishable foods is below 40°F with a thermometer, then put them in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible.

If you have any more questions about how to keep your food “cool for the summer,” call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. You can also visit FoodSafety.gov and follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or on Facebook at Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov. Stay cool, everyone!