Ah, summer. Memorial Day is on its way. Time to gear up for picnics and barbecues! Along with shopping lists, recipes and guest lists, here’s something else to put in your holiday file: If you want to be the “hostess with the mostest” or the “host who can boast,” you’ll want to keep food safety at the top of your list — from start to finish. That includes when you’re preparing dishes, cooking them, serving them and packing up leftovers to send home with guests or put in your own refrigerator. Jennifer McEntire, a food safety guru and currently the senior director of Food & Import Safety at Leavitt Partners Global Food Safety Solutions, has years of experience going for her when she offers advice about keeping food safe during summer cookouts. She’s also the mother of a young child and therefore knows firsthand how important it is to follow basic food safety practices. “If a grown man or woman wants to eat a rare burger, that’s totally different from a kid eating a rare burger,” said McEntire in an interview with Food Safety News. “It could kill a child or an older person.” Burgers, including ground poultry burgers, can contain potentially fatal strains of pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella, among others. From her own perspective, McEntire said that she’s probably willing to take some chances herself. “But as a mom, I would never do that with my daughter,” she said. According to The PEW Health Group, approximately half of the reported foodborne illnesses in the U.S. occur in children, and the majority of these cases occur in children under 15 years of age. Children are at high risk for many reasons, among them that their immune systems are still developing and their lower body weight means that it takes a smaller amount of pathogens to sicken them. Pregnant women, the elderly, and those with health problems are also more likely to get ill and suffer the most from foodborne pathogens. In other words, even if Uncle Harry insists on making or eating rare burgers, that doesn’t mean the needs of the other people at summer cookouts shouldn’t be taken into consideration. And no one is safe from the effects of foodborne illness, such as E. coli, which can cause symptoms such as abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting even in healthy individuals. Go here for a rundown of the 10 most dangerous foodborne pathogens and what foods they can be found in. Something else to consider: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every year, 48 million people fall ill, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses. Nope, you definitely don’t want any part of that sort of risk in your summer picnics or barbecues. The basics The USDA’s advice about Memorial Day cookouts is a good summer lead-in. It includes basic food safety tips such as cleaning preparation areas and washing your hands before and after handling food. Other tips include keeping raw meat separate from other food items, heating food to a high enough temperature to kill any pathogens that might be on or in it, and keeping hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Be sure to check the temperature It’s always good to review safe cooking temperatures for meats before you start up the grill. According to an annual poll conducted for the American Meat Institute, only 39 percent of Americans know that the recommended internal cooking temperature is 160 degrees Fahrenheit for hamburgers and 165 degrees F for turkey burgers. And, yes, a meat thermometer is an essential tool in making sure the right temperatures are reached. That’s especially true for hamburgers because you can’t tell just by looking at the inside of a burger if it’s cooked to a safe temperature. According to USDA research, one out of every four hamburgers turns brown inside before it has been cooked to the safe internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Go here for more information about playing it safe with hamburgers. As for popular meats this grilling season, steak will be the favorite, followed closely by burgers, according to a recent American Meat Institute poll. Hot dogs are another summer favorite. According to the same AMI poll, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, U.S. consumers will eat an estimated 7 billion hot dogs — 150 million of these over the Fourth of July holiday alone. For a fun tip about grilling hot dogs, see Food Safety News’ article on the topic. Extra burgers and hot dogs can be put aside and covered with aluminum foil after they’re grilled, but ONLY if they’ve been cooked to the proper temperature and food safety practices have been followed, said McEntire. For example, you should never put the cooked burgers (or any other meat) on the same plate you brought the raw burgers (or meat) out on, and you should use different utensils for the raw burgers and the cooked burgers. Ready, get set, go! It’s good to plan ahead, said McEntire, because it will help you incorporate basic food safety practices into the meal. As busy as you might be, you don’t want to put food safety on the back burner or just give it some fleeting thoughts. With that in mind, McEntire suggested estimating how many people will be there and how much food will be needed. For the sake of food safety, “Don’t prepare more than you’ll need.” It’s also good to let your guests know when the food will be served. That way they’ll be able to eat the food shortly after it’s been put out and when it’s at the right temperature. Keep food ‘temperature safe’ While many people leave food out after their guests have eaten so they can go back later and nibble on some more, McEntire emphasizes that if you do that, proper precautions need to be taken to keep the food at safe temperatures. According to the USDA, food should only be left out for about two hours after it’s been prepared, and only an hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or higher. The reason for that is that if there is any bacteria in the food, it will start to multiply rapidly at temperatures in the “danger zone” — between 40 and 140 degrees F. But McEntire said that if you do want to keep the food out after your guests have eaten, there are various ways to do that and keep the food safe. For example, hot dishes such as lasagne or casseroles can be kept at the right temperature with Sterno buffet kits. And for those who are bringing hot dishes to the outing, a Pyrex portable baking dish with its insulated carrier or an insulated crock pot carrier are good choices. Hot and cold gel packs are also handy for food such as deviled eggs and cream pies. As for salads, the bowls containing them can be nestled into larger bowls containing cold water and ice. During the day, more ice can be added. Or they can be placed on ice in a nearby cooler. Not only do these precautions keep the food safe, but they also keep it at its best — something that your guests will appreciate. Another precaution is to make sure packages containing raw meat don’t leak onto other foods in a cooler. For that reason, it’s important to double-wrap them. And make sure any ice you provide for drinks is clean and not contaminated with drippings from raw meat or other sources. About that raw meat: Don’t bring it out until you’re ready to cook it. You can also do some grilling ahead of time. For example, you can grill chicken (which usually takes more time to grill than hungry people have the patience for) beforehand. Once grilled, keep it cold before warming it up. “With its skin left on, chicken will hold moisture,” McEntire said, referring to apprehensions that it might be too dry if you reheat it. You can also microwave chicken and pork in the microwave as a “pre-grilling” step. But if you do, she said, don’t hold it. You’ll need to cook it right away. When making plans for the outing, McEntire said it’s good to include foods such as chips, nuts and fruit pies (but not cream pies) that don’t need temperature controls. And then there’s location — where are you going to put out the food if the meal is being served outdoors? If possible, said McEntire, a shady place away from direct sun is definitely preferred. “The air temperature will still be the same (a hot day is still a hot day), but the direct sunlight will definitely warm things up,” she said. “There is some common sense involved: If you are feeling hot, the food is getting hot, too! As for any leftovers you have doubts about, McEntire offers this food safety advice, which is also a mantra of USDA’s food safety advice: “When in doubt, throw it out.” Supply hand washing facilities for your guests While it’s important for anyone preparing food for a picnic or barbecue to keep his or her hands clean, it’s also important to supply hand washing opportunities for guests. After all, they may have been petting dogs, cats or horses or handling items that aren’t clean before sitting down to eat. When you announce that the food is ready, you can also announce where people can wash their hands. Sometimes, of course, a summer outing will be far from a source of running water, and for that reason, McEntire always brings along several jugs of clean water. But she said that you can also bring along an ample amount of paper towels and some hand sanitizer. The strategy with this option is to apply the hand sanitizer, rub your hands with it, and then wipe your hands with the paper towels. Then, apply some more hand sanitizer, rub your hands with it, and wipe your hands with the paper towels again. While this isn’t as good a strategy as washing your hands under running water, it’s a good alternative, McEntire said. Go here for more information about handling leftovers.