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Beware of Foodborne Illness

Man using meat thermometer while barbecuing

Whether it’s a picnic in a park, backyard barbecue or camping cookout, nothing spoils the ambiance of alfresco dining faster than food poisoning.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 48 million Americans suffer from foodborne illnesses each year, a problem that can rise with the temperature in summer months.

“It gets warmer. There’s higher humidity. People are preparing food outside,” said Ernest Julian, chief of the R.I. Department of Health’s Center for Food Protection. “They tend to leave food out in 90-degree temperatures, where bacteria can double every 20 minutes.”

Don’t let salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli or any other contaminant spoil your food – or your summer. Food-handling basics that work indoors also work outdoors. Sanitizing surfaces and proper hand hygiene – washing at least 20 seconds with warm soapy water before and after food preparation – are essential.

These precautions will also help you ward off foodborne illnesses.

Picnics and Cookouts

  • Don’t leave food sitting for more than two hours – one hour maximum when temperatures spike to 90 degrees or higher.
  • Keep cold foods in a cooler, and serve small portions, replenishing when needed.
  • Dairy products, sliced fruits and vegetables and raw meats should be put on ice. Keep perishable food cold until ready to be cooked.
  • Packed coolers keep cold longer than partially filled ones.
  • Position an insulated cooler in shade or a shelter, away from direct sun. Fill with ice, frozen gel packs or frozen food, which can serve double duty as cold packs.
  • Avoid opening the cooler too often.
  • Consider keeping meats in their own cooler.


  • Avoid cross-contamination. Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat and ready-to-eat items like vegetables or bread.
  • Cook to proper temperatures. Food thermometers can ensure meat and poultry are cooked thoroughly, to safe minimum internal temperatures.
  • Keep meat and poultry 140 degrees or warmer until served. You can avoid overcooking by moving cooked food to the side of the grill rack.
  • Always use clean plates and tongs for serving cooked food. Never reuse items that touched raw meat or poultry.

Read also: Summer Health Head to Toe

What are some of your favorite summer cookout foods? Tell us in the comments section.


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