you’re enjoying the Fourth of July holiday with picnics, barbecues, traveling to see family and friends, or just relaxing at home, remember to include safe food handling practices to help keep foodborne pathogens out of the celebrations. The dangers posed by foodborne pathogens increase during hot weather and around water, as indicated by a recent illness outbreak reported in Michigan. A graduation party near Sturgis, MI, resulted in six people being sickened, with the suspected culprit being something in the catered food that was served. Especially outside in the summer heat, perishable food needs to be kept hot or cold enough to keep it out of the danger zone, which is between 40 and 140 degrees F. That’s the range in which dangerous bacteria can double in number in just 20 minutes and why you should never leave food out for more than two hours (or one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees F or above). Here are some holiday food safety tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other sources: Food served cold should be kept at or below 40 degrees F either in the refrigerator, in a cooler (preferably kept in the shade and quickly opened and closed), or in a container on ice or frozen gel packs. served hot should be kept at 140 degrees F or above in insulated containers, heated chafing dishes, warming trays, slow cookers or on a barbecue grill. If food needs to be reheated, make sure it reaches 165 degrees F. Always wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before cooking and after handling raw meat or poultry. Remember to also wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and work surfaces with soap and warm water before and after preparing food. If you’re going to be preparing food outside without access to a kitchen, bring clean cloths and pre-packaged moist towelettes to help keep your hands and other items as free from bacteria as possible. Food taken from a cooler should be returned to it within an hour. If you aren’t sure how long food has been sitting out, throw it away. Pack an appliance thermometer in your cooler to make sure food stays at or below 40 degrees F. Divide large amounts of food into shallow containers for fast chilling and easier use. Packing drinks in a separate cooler is strongly recommended so the food cooler isn’t opened as frequently. Keep the cooler in the shade and try to cover it with a blanket or tarp to keep it cool. Replenish the ice if it melts. Danger zone temperature graphicUse a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat, poultry and seafood. Here’s a guide showing where to place the thermometer in certain food items. You can’t tell whether the meat is safely cooked by just looking at it. If you plan to marinate meat and/or poultry for several hours or overnight, make sure to marinate it in the refrigerator, not on the counter. If you plan to reuse the marinade from raw meat or poultry, make sure to boil it first to destroy any harmful bacteria. For safety, leftovers must be put in shallow containers for quick cooling and refrigerated to 40 degrees F or below within two hours. If you have food storage questions, download USDA’s FoodKeeper application. This app offers guidance on the safe storage of more than 400 food and beverage items. If you have questions about the danger zone, or any other food safety topics, call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 888MPHotline, or chat live with a food safety specialist at These services are available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EDT, Monday through Friday, in English and Spanish. (To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)