The Fourth of July is a popular holiday for entertaining.  Whether you’re hosting a cookout, beach picnic, or poolside fiesta, follow proper food safety precautions to keep the foods – and your guests – safer.  With warm summer temperatures, outdoor entertaining, a buffet style feeding frenzy, and the chaos of potluck parties, your risk for foodborne illnesses is likely to increase significantly.  And, in some cases, such as beach bonfires, there may be a lack of hand washing facilities, making the risks even higher. 

So how do you have your cake (and burger, and potato salad) and eat it safely?  To help prevent foodborne illness during your summer celebrations (and throughout the year), follow these tips:

  • Wash your hands.  Wash thoroughly with soap and warm water before handling any food and after handling raw meat, poultry, or eggs.  Also, wash your hands after using the restroom, changing diapers, touching your (germy) cell phones, and touching surfaces that others have touched (such as doorknobs).
  • Wash fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Courtesy of USDA

    Cook foods to the required temperatures – ground beef (160 degrees F), pork (145 degrees F), and poultry (165 degrees F).   Check temperatures using a calibrated thermometer.  Don’t use the “it’s cooked when juices run clear” trick.  Always check temps.

  • Keep hot foods hot (above 140 degrees F). Use chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays to keep food hot on the buffet table.   
  • Keep cold foods cold (below 40 degreesF). Nest serving dishes in bowls of ice, replacing ice often.
  • Avoid cross-contamination. Don’t let raw meat products (like raw burgers) come into contact with ready-to-eat foods, i.e. lettuce, tomato, onions, cheese, or bread.  Don’t use the same plates and utensils for raw and cooked meat products; meaning don’t carry meat to the grill on a plate and then place the cooked burgers on that same plate without first properly washing it. 
  • Don’t let foods sit out for more than two hours. This is especially important when you’re outside on a warm, sunny day. When food sits out in the hot sun for longer than two hours, harmful bacteria multiplies, and the risk for foodborne illness increases.
  • Understand that many picnic, potluck and party foods are potentially hazardous, and should be handled with care:
    • Any product that contains proteins – eggs, meat, poultry, tuna, etc.
    • Lunch meats, ham salad, chicken salad, tuna salad, etc.
    • Milk and dairy
  • Clean and sanitize using proper protocols and supplies, like Purell® Foodservice Surface Sanitizer, which will effectively disinfect surfaces in 30 seconds when utilizing appropriate disinfection instructions. This is especially important after handling raw proteins on kitchen surfaces (such as countertops). Wash and sanitize your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops after preparing each food item.
  • Be aware of food allergies.  Ask in advance if there are any food allergies in your group so you can plan the menu accordingly.  Keep in mind that marinades and sauces may contain many hidden allergens, including nuts. Check the ingredients in prepared foods that you buy for the party (including buns, desserts, potato salad, etc.) Desserts, including ice cream, are high risk for nut allergies. Commercial brands of ice cream are typically made on “shared” equipment. Always read the labels, and then read again before serving to a food-allergic person. When in doubt, do without!
  • Recognize that the grill is a COLOSSAL cross-contact risk! Separate the food for the allergic person and use separate utensils, equipment and plates for their meal.  Let the food-allergic guest serve him/herself first in a buffet to prevent possible cross-contact from other guests (e.g., someone using the same serving utensils in multiple containers and potentially transferring an allergen from one dish to another, etc.) 
  • Ensure safer leftovers. Discard any perishable foods that have been out on the buffet for two hours or more. Divide leftovers into small portions, place in shallow containers, and refrigerate. Don’t wait too long to consume your leftovers. Refrigerate them for three to four days tops. 
  • Understand that alcohol won’t “kill” bacteria.  An important item at July 4th parties is, of course, the booze.  While many people will enjoy a cold beer, glass of wine or frosty margarita at summer parties, realize that alcohol won’t kill any dangerous bacteria that guests may ingest. People frequently ask if alcohol will “kill” any bacteria that might lead to foodborne illness, and the answer to that is no.  It’s essential to cook, serve and store food safely to avoid foodborne illness.  

Enjoy your time with your family and friends, sunny skies, warm weather, delicious foods – and be sure to keep everyone safe and healthy! 

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