Stay Well and Enjoy Holiday Cookouts With a Few Food Safety Tips

Outdoor fun, especially when the weather is nice, includes picnics, barbecues, camping, outdoor parties and other activities. Don’t miss out on the fun by getting sick.

Typical symptoms of food-related illness are vomiting, diarrhea, and flu-like symptoms, which can start anywhere from hours to days after contaminated food or drinks are consumed.

When the air temperature and humidity climbs into the 70s and above, harmful bacteria growth increases rapidly, making handling food safely even more important.

Here are a few warm-weather food safety tips to help keep your festivities and food safe:


When preparing meals remember to follow these safety tips: 

  • Clean: Wash hands, cutting boards, utensils, and countertops. 
  • Separate: Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods. 
  • Transport food: It’s important to remember that harmful bacteria can start to grow when prepared food falls between temperatures of 40 -140 degrees. Perishable food transported without an ice or heat source won’t stay safe long. 
  • Thaw: Always thaw food in a refrigerator or place the frozen food in a cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs. Never thaw food at room temperature.    
  • Marinate: Safely marinate foods inside a refrigerator. Never marinate foods at room or air temperature, and do not re-use marinade. If it is to be used as a dipping or other sauce, save a portion of the mixture, keep it away from raw meat and store it in a refrigerator or cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs before serving.  
  • Coolers: Have several coolers. Have one that can be opened frequently and used for beverages, one for snacks and ready-to-eat foods, and one for meats.  
  • Trash: Have trash bags stored away from the serving and cooking area. Close or cover the trash bag when it’s not in use.   

Cooking Safety

The onset of warm weather often prompts many people to begin using their outdoor grills to prepare foods. The following tips can help reduce the risk of getting sick:  

  • Always supervise a barbecue grill when in use.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds prior to cooking food.
  • Always cook foods to the proper temperature. Do not rely on the food’s color or firmness to determine if it’s thoroughly cooked. Always use a food thermometer and clean the probe end with soap and water before and after use.
  • When checking food with a thermometer, remove the food from the grill surface, place it on a clean plate, and then take the temperature in the thickest part of the food (not touching any bones).
  • Since grills and cooking surfaces may have cold spots or cook unevenly, check the temperature of each piece of meat on the grill.
  • Always use a clean plate and utensil for cooked foods; don’t use the same tongs or platter that you used to bring raw foods to the grill.
  • Check to make sure your grill tools are clean, in good condition, and not shedding any brush bristles.
  • Cooked foods on the grill surface can be moved off to the side in a hot holding area away from the hot coals or heating elements.
  • Store hot foods in a chaffing dish, table-top warmer, or in an insulated container.
  • Have mesh covers/tents to cover dishes to prevent flies and bugs from landing on the food. 


Keep these tips in mind when storing and eating leftovers:

  • Don’t leave food sitting out at room or air temperature for more than 2 hours. If the air temperature is 90 degrees or higher, then the time limit drops to one hour. The food should be thrown away if it sits out longer than that.
  • Refrigerate cooked leftovers within 2 hours and ensure the temperature in the refrigerator is at 40 degrees or below.
  • Divide leftovers into smaller portions and store in shallow containers in the refrigerator.
  • Leftovers should be eaten, frozen or discarded within 3 to 4 days.
  • Reheat cooked leftovers to 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer. Sauces, soups and gravies should be reheated by bringing them to a boil.
  • When microwaving leftovers, make sure there are no cold spots in food where bacteria can survive.
  • When they are not in the fridge, keep cold foods at the proper temperature by storing them on ice (e.g., use an empty bowl, place some ice in the bottom, set the dish with the food product inside the bowl, fill ice around the food dish so that the ice level outside of the food dish is level with the food in the dish). Monitor the bowl and empty the water as the ice melts and refill with new ice. Use an inflatable cold tray and fill will ice, then set your cold food dishes into the ice tray.
  • Store coolers closed, in the shade or cover them. Store them in an air-conditioned area, if possible.

For more tips, visit the VDH Food Safety page and read more about Food Safety Fridays (#FoodSafetyFridays).