Is summer your favorite season? Who doesn’t love the picnics, barbecues, locally grown fruits and veggies, and relaxed spirit of summer parties? Warm days seem to bring out the best in food flavors, but summer is also the time to take extra care to follow basic food safety practices, say experts at Wegmans Food Markets, so that bacteria that can cause illness never get the chance to grow.
“Food science has helped all of us understand how to handle foods as we prepare them and what to do with leftovers to keep them fresh and safe,” says Mary Ellen Burris, the senior vice president at Wegmans who oversees food safety and consumer affairs. “To minimize risks, you need to keep bacteria from spreading from one food to another, or multiplying in a dish of food left too long on the table or in the kitchen.”
A rule that’s easy to remember when food is ready to be served is “keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.” Why? Bacteria grow fastest at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, so chilling food properly is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Use a refrigerator thermometer to keep the temperature inside in the right range – between 32-40°F.
“For foods meant to be served chilled, such as salads, raw veggies and dips, or deli meats, either leave them in the fridge until serving time, or, if you’re bringing food to a picnic, keep them cold in an insulated bag or cooler,” Burris says.
Foods meant to be eaten hot – like grilled meats, poultry or fish—must first be cooked to the right temperature to kill bacteria on the surface and interior. Using an instant-read digital thermometer to check the temperature is the best way to know whether the protein is safely cooked, since you can’t tell just by looking. Not sure how to use one? Watch Wegmans Chef Russell Ferguson demonstrate and talk about the importance of checking temperature this way in a video on grilling the perfect steak.
The final target for cooking temperature will vary, depending on whether you are cooking meat, poultry or fish. See the Final Cook-to-Temperature Charts in the Food Safety section of wegmans.com for help.
Once the food is ready to serve, don’t let it sit on the table for hours. “The usual rule is to refrigerate leftovers within two hours,” Burris says. “On a very warm day, I’d shorten that time to about an hour. If you can’t refrigerate leftovers within this time frame, you should probably discard them. Nobody likes getting sick, so we say ‘if in doubt, throw it out.’”
Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill: Good to remember in every season
Food-prep practices that cut down the chance of getting sick from food are detailed on the Food Safety section of wegmans.com. Wegmans and befoodsafe.org, a national partnership for food safety education, recommend these steps:
- Keep it clean: Bacteria can spread from hands, to cutting boards, to knives, countertops, dishes, and pots and pans. To keep that from happening, wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food. Make sure knives and cutting boards are cleaned with warm, soapy water each time after you use them to chop or cut a food. Rinse fruits and vegetables under running tap water just before eating. Rub firm-skin produce such as melons (or scrub with clean brush) under running tap water.
- Separate foods: Cross-contamination is how bacteria spreads. Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood and their juices or marinades away from ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook thoroughly: Improper heating means bacteria can survive. Cook to the recommended temperature and check with an instant-read thermometer to know that harmful bacteria have been killed.
- Chill: Chill leftovers within two hours in the refrigerator at or below 40 degrees. On a warm summer day, refrigerate leftovers even more quickly.
Got questions? The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) recently updated its Food Keeper resource, which contains food safety and storage advice to help maintain freshness and quality of foods after they’re purchased. Wegmans Consumer Affairs group can also answer questions about keeping food safe and can be reached at 1-800-WEGMANS.