"Newton in the Kitchen" usually focuses on, well, prepping food in a kitchen and dining indoors. But with the temperatures soaring this week and more people eating and cooking outdoors, it’s important to be aware of warm weather food safety-especially with the elevated potential for food-borne illnesses.
Hint: It’s not just about keeping everything on ice.
According to The Partnership for Food Safety Education, there are four cornerstones of warm weather food safety:
- Clean- Wash your hands, cutting boards and utensils, and counter tops frequently and with warm, soapy water.
- Separate – Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from other foods, including prepping them on a separate cutting board or surface. Make sure to transport raw meat, poultry and seafood to the grill on one plate and then remove it and serve it on a different plate. Don’t use marinades that have had raw meat, poultry or seafood in them as a dressing after cooking; make up a separate batch if need be.
- Cook – Use a food thermometer to gauge the correct safe, internal temperatures for cooked foods (these are available at Star Market, Whole Foods and even CVS and Walgreens). Follow this chart from the FDA for the safe, internal cooked temperatures for meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and leftovers.
- Chill- Don’t let raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs or cut vegetables or fruits sit out unrefrigerated for more than two hours. Don’t defrost frozen meat, etc. at room temperature- plan ahead and defrost safely in your refrigerator. You can also defrost frozen foods under cold running water or in the microwave, but these should be cooked immediately after thawing.
John McNally, Senior Environmental Health Specialist with the Newton Health and Human Services Department elaborates on exactly just what can occur when food is not prepared or cooked properly or when it is consumed past the two-hour “safety zone” deadline.
“Bacteria have a lag time,” explains McNally. “Basically there are two different things. Food infection occurs when the quantity of bacteria in the food increases over time, and that can make you sick. But food intoxication occurs when a toxin has grown in the food, and at that point you can’t just cook it out. So you need to be careful- if it has a funny smell or a funny appearance, lose it – don’t use it!”
If you need help remembering this slogan or the equally clever “When in doubt, throw it out,” here is a link to “Who Left the Food Out,” a catchy tune from the UCDavis FoodSafe site. Just try forgetting to follow warm weather food safety guidelines with this little ditty ear-worming its way through your brain!
“In summertime, you can eat things that have been at room temperature, at least for a little while,” Leviton explains. “Veggies, grains, beans- they’re all fine at room temperature after being cooked. Even grilled meat, grilled chicken is okay as long as you stay in the ‘two hour zone,’ the window. That’s how you eat during summer, right?”
Leviton also cautions that home chefs need to be aware of how long the leftovers of their feast have been sitting out: if it’s more than two hours, discard them rather than putting them back in the refrigerator.
Along similar lines, Whole Foods’ website notes that while “it may look nice to set all of the food out on the picnic table, it is safer to leave cold foods in the cooler until right before eating.”
And when it comes to food on the go, Good Housekeeping suggests that you make sure to pack the cooler food-first (on the bottom) so that the melting ice (and therefore cooling medium) can travel down. You want to make sure to place said cooler in the shade and open it as infrequently as you can. Even the iciest cooler can still end up just a pool of lukewarm, bacteria-encouraging water after several sweltering hours.
In fact, according to the FDA, the time that food can be consumed after being cooked and left out goes down to one hour when the air temperature goes over 90°F. It’s better to discard food that is questionable rather than end up becoming sick.
Have a safe and fun time dining and cooking out of doors, and happy summer!