Summer is a great opportunity to get friends and family together for cookouts and potlucks. What guest don’t you want at your gathering, though? Bacteria.

With outdoor events in full force, food safety principles should be at the top of mind so you can keep you and your guests feeling good. Here are some tips to get you started.

Clean, clean, clean

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before, during and after cooking, and before you eat
  • Clean your prep surface with hot, soapy water before and throughout preparing your food
  • Rinse your produce thoroughly with running water ahead of cooking
  • Inspect and clean your grill before and after using

Separate raw, uncooked foods from ready-to-eat food

Raw meats and uncooked eggs carry extra germs, so it is important to keep them separate from ready-to-eat and prepared foods.

  • Keep raw meat, seafood and eggs separate from other foods in the refrigerator to avoid cross-contamination
  • Use separate cutting boards, plates and utensils for raw meat and seafood
  • Once you begin cooking or grilling, dispose of marinade, sauces and juices that have touched raw meat
  • Do not use the same plate for cooked meat that you used for the raw meat

Use a thermometer

When cooking meat and seafood, it is essential to cook it to the right internal temperature so it is hot enough to kill germs that can lead to food poisoning. The only way to know the internal temperature of meat and seafood is by using a food thermometer.

From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), here are the safe minimum internal temperatures:

  • Whole cuts of beef, veal, lamb, pork and raw fresh ham: 145°F. Then let the meat rest for three minutes before carving or eating.
  • Fish with fins: 145°F or cook until flesh is opaque (or not transparent)
  • Ground beef, pork and other meats: 160°F
  • All poultry, including ground chicken and turkey: 165°F
  • Leftovers and casseroles: 165°F

Steer clear of the danger zone

The danger zone is the temperature range where bacteria in food can rapidly multiply and cause foodborne illness. Avoid allowing your cooked or prepared food to reach room temperature (between 40°F to 140°F).

Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold

To reduce the likelihood of bacterial growth and to stay out of the danger zone, the simplest rule is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Here is how to do that.

Cold foods

  • Keep uncooked or raw meat and seafood in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook, even if meat is thawing or marinating.
  • Keep all prepared cold foods in a cooler at 40°F or below until it is time to eat.
  • Once you serve cold food, keep it cool by placing it in a shallow serving dish. Set the dish into a deep pan filled with ice and replace the ice as needed.

Hot foods

  • Hot food items need to be kept at or above 140°F
  • Hot food items should be wrapped well and stored in an insulated container until you are ready to eat
  • Serve hot foods in crockpots or warming dishes

Refrigerate both hot and cold foods promptly after eating. Perishable foods, like meats and dairy products, should not be left out for longer than two hours (or one hour if the air temperature is above 90°F) to avoid the danger zone. If foods are left out longer, then throw them away to reduce the likelihood of foodborne illnesses.

Eat better and stay well this summer

Teladoc dietitians can help you stick to your summer health goals while still enjoying cookouts, vacations and all that the season has to offer. Our network of 150-plus expert registered dietitians can customize a nutrition plan that fits your lifestyle and schedule. Choose your dietitian, make an appointment and start improving your health today.

Speak with a dietitian today

Check out our healthy grilling ideas for any season.

Updated May 17, 2022

This portion of the Teladoc Health website occasionally offers health, fitness and nutritional information and is provided for educational purposes only. You cannot rely on any information provided here as a substitute for or replacement of professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Teladoc Health cannot assure that the information contained on this site always includes the most recent findings or developments with respect to the particular subject matter covered.

If you ever have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional. Do not disregard, avoid or delay obtaining medical- or health-related advice from your healthcare professional because of something you may have read on this site. The use of any information provided on this site is solely at your own risk.

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About the author

Shelley Schwartz, RD, LDN

Shelley Schwartz is a Registered Dietitian. With over 25 years of experience, she has successfully helped many people live healthy lifestyles and reach their goals. Her passion is helping people with chronic conditions live their best life one step at a time. Shelley completed her Bachelor’s degree in Applied Health Science at Indiana University, Bloomington and her Dietetic Internship at the Indiana University Medical Center, Indianapolis. Outside of work, Shelley loves cooking, trying new recipes and working out in various ways (“urban” hiking, hitting the gym and swimming). Most of all, Shelley loves spending time with her husband and boys.

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