Food Safety for Summer

By Amy Williams, MS, RD, LD

Clark County Health Department

Summer time cookouts, family reunions, and basically any get together that requires eating may increase on your social calendar for the next few months. During these outings, it can be challenging to make sure all food is safe; you might be busy socializing with friends or family, oftentimes neglecting the food that is sitting out in the heat. So, with that said, let’s discuss ways to keep you and your family healthy, and keep them at the top of their game during this fun time of year.

If you are using your grill this spring and summer, be sure to cook the meat you choose thoroughly.  Cooking thoroughly means cooking the meat all of the way through, or to the appropriate temperature. For example, make sure if you are grilling burgers, chicken, and pork, that the inside of the meat is the same color and texture as the outside of the meat. You do not want to see pink on the inside of a burger or pork, nor do you want to see a shiny texture that is clear in chicken. Also, you want to make sure that you separate chicken on the grill, due to cross contamination and possible salmonella food poisoning. In other words, do not mix chicken with other meats or vegetables. It is also good to use a meat thermometer for these occasions. It is recommended to cook all cuts of pork to an internal temperature of 160°F, ground beef, veal and lamb to 160 °F as well, and chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F.  Note that this is an internal cooking temperature, and not a storage temperature.

Temperatures are very important as we have discussed above. So, it is key to know what temperatures are the most important to avoid. The “Danger Zone” is known as temperatures between 40°F to 140°F. The “Danger Zone” is the area where bacteria can grow. Anything above 140°F is danger free, and anything below 40°F is danger free as well. The space in the middle is the area you want to avoid.  Using your thermometer will help you identify possible dangers this summer. Again, note that this is a storage temperature, and not an internal cooking temperature.

It is also vital to understand what foods are predators for pathogens that cause food poisoning.  Mayonnaise based salads and casseroles are known for being possible foods that could cause food poisoning if left out during food outings. Salads and casseroles such as, potato, cole slaw, chicken, gelatin, or desserts are at risk for causing food poisoning. Be sure to re-package these items as soon as possible after serving on the buffet line.  It is also good practice to not leave food unrefrigerated for more than two hours. Therefore, it is good to store these foods immediately in the cooler after everyone has had a chance to get their first helping. You can always go back for seconds and possible thirds, if you store appropriately.

Be sure to store foods in the cooler as soon as possible, and cool hot food items in shallow pans to allow a quick cooling off period. If you use a deep pan, the internal core temperature is more likely to not reach a level that is safe. A shallow pan allows the less than 40°F temperature to be achieved in the refrigerator as quickly as possible. Thus, allowing a safer atmosphere for your food.

So, this summer when you are planning your next get together, be sure to plan ahead with what you will need to store food safely. Be sure to cook the meat thoroughly, separating chicken away from other grill items. If in doubt, check your meat thermometer for internal cooking temperatures. Bring separate shallow storage containers for leftovers. Lastly, do not forget to store items in the cooler or refrigerator after the buffet line has been served. You can always go back for seconds or thirds later.

Clark County Health Department provides programs for the entire family, including Cooper Clayton, WIC, HANDS, family planning, well child care/immunizations, and home health care.  For more information on all of our service, please call 859/744-4482 or visit our website at  HYPERLINK “”  You can also “like” us on Facebook.