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The Easy Guide to Keeping Food Safe All Summer Long

A thermometer in a piece of meat; a gray cooler; a woven picnic basket tote

Summer is the season of cookouts, picnics, and beach gatherings, but the hot weather makes it important to follow good food safety practices. Here’s everything you need to know to keep your food safe in style.

Everyone likes to be remembered as the person who brought that amazing dip to the summer cookout, not the person who sent half their friends to the ER with food poisoning. Temperature is the most important factor when it comes to food safety.

With just a few simple tools and tips, you can ensure your summer hangouts won’t be ruined by any unpleasant food-related incidents.

How to Cook Food Safely

If you’re grilling, it’s important to make sure that the meat has been cooked to an internal temperature that’s hot enough to kill any foodborne germs that could make people sick. According to FoodSafety.gov, the safe minimum temperatures are:

  • For ground meat: 165 degrees Fahrenheit for turkey or chicken, 160 degrees Fahrenheit for other meats (including ground beef).
  • For beef, veal, or lamb: 145 degrees Fahrenheit with a three-minute rest time after removing from the heat.
  • For poultry: 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • For pork or fresh ham: 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Having a reliable meat thermometer is crucial for temperature-checking your food. We love the ThermPro TP03 Digital Instant Read Meat Thermometer. It has a high-accuracy, stainless-steel probe with an easy-to-read backlit display. The probe folds into the handle for storage and has a hook so you won’t lose track of it.


How to Cool Food Safely

So you’ve cooked some amazing food for your backyard hangout, but maybe you cooked more than you needed to and have some leftovers. Or, maybe everyone’s just running late and the food has been sitting out longer than planned. How can you make sure those leftovers are safe to eat?

The “danger zone” for food poisoning (aka the temperature zone in which the bacteria that can cause food poisoning are most likely to multiply) is 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. Perishables shouldn’t be left out for more than two hours without being properly refrigerated. This means keeping a particularly close eye, not just on your meat dishes, but on your sides, too!

You probably already have some cooling solutions in your home or on your party list! Some options include:

  • Filling large bowls with ice: Then, you can just nestle the smaller dishes or bowls on top.
  • Use small lunchbox-style coolers as serving dishes: Just fill them with ice or ice packs, and then put your bowls of food on top.
  • Freeze all serving dishes: If you do this ahead of time, ahead of time you can just fill them with the day’s food.
  • Serve in stages: Rather than bringing all the food out at once, start with appetizers and finger foods, then switch them out with main dishes straight from the kitchen.

Another option? Choose side dishes that don’t involve classic dairy-based dressings, like your traditional mayo-heavy macaroni or potato salads. For instance, instead of a macaroni salad with creamy mayo dressing, try making a pasta salad with a vinaigrette dressing.

When putting leftovers away (those that haven’t been sitting out too long), it’s important to store them properly to ensure they stay safe, too. Use containers that allow you to spread the food out over a larger, flatter surface area, rather than a smaller, deeper container. This will allow for the most rapid and widespread cooling.

How to Transport Food Safely

A gray cooler with its lid open; a "picnic basket" woven tote bag

If you’re planning to transport food to a cookout, a potluck, the beach, or anywhere else this summer, don’t get stuck with tepid food and drinks when you get to your destination! A quality insulated cooler will keep anything at temperature.

Hot foods will stay warm when they’re put together in an insulated container, while adding ice to a cooler or insulated bag will keep perishable cold items ready to eat!

For keeping foods cold, a cooler is an obvious choice: just add ice packs. You can also take advantage of its insulation to keep hot foods hot. Instead of ice packs to chill, wrap hot foods in a layer or two of foil, then sandwich that foil package between top and bottom towels inside the cooler.

Sometimes, simplicity is what you need, and that’s just when the CleverMade Collapsible Cooler Bag comes in handy. A sturdy and spacious traditional cooler, it’s a little easier to carry and nicer-looking than your typical plastic coolers.

This insulated cooler can carry plenty of food and/or drinks, plus ice, and has easy-to-use tote handles to carry with ease. Plus, it has a snap-hinge that allows for a sturdier structure when in use, but then collapses for easy storage.

If you’re trying to capture the classic picnic aesthetic, while still keeping your food safe and easy to carry, the L Space Cameron Picnic Cooler Bag looks like an old-fashioned picnic tote but with all the insulating capabilities of a cooler.

It features a wicker basket “weave” exterior with coral-red accents, while the inside has a large insulated compartment that can be removed completely for easy cleaning.

Another style-meets-function option is the apollo walker Picnic Backpack Bag. It’s a complete picnic bag in backpack form, making it easy to pack everything you need for a summer picnic. It has a roomy insulated compartment for carrying food safely, a set of plates and utensils, a separate insulated bottle compartment, and even a coordinating blanket.

A heavy-duty traditional cooler might not be the most stylish option, but it has its advantages! The Coleman Xtreme 5 Cooler has a 70-quart capacity and solid, reliable insulation from top to bottom—even on the lid! With sturdy construction, it can even double as seating on a picnic or a camping trip.

No matter what your summer cooking plans are, it’s always important to make sure everything stays safe and tasty! Be sure to check out our tips for grill prep, as well!

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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