Keep food “cool for the summer” to avoid illness

One of the best things about the summer is finally getting to enjoy the warm weather outside. Backyard barbecues and picnics just for you and your household can be a great way to get outside while staying safe.

And while dining outside with friends is popular these days as people try to minimize the risks of exposure to the coronavirus, rising temperatures can bring food safety risks.

During warm weather it’s even more important to make sure your food is safe by keeping it “cool for the summer.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers the following tips to keep your food safe.

Normally, perishable foods can be left out for only two hours before they need to be chilled or discarded. That keeps your food from being in the “danger zone” for too long; germs that cause foodborne illness can grow rapidly in temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F. In the summer, hot and humid weather creates an ideal environment for bacteria to grow even more quickly. When the temperature outside is above 90 degrees, food is only safe outside for one hour. If you’re planning on spending hours in the sun, then follow these tips to keep your food “cool for the summer.”

Cool Tip No. 1: Bring on the cold (sources).

When you’re serving food outside, extra cold sources are a must to keep everything cool. Pack coolers with bags of ice, gel packs or even frozen water bottles so that your food will stay cold and safe for as long as possible. Keep an appliance thermometer in your cooler to make sure it’s keeping your food below 40°F during all your summer fun.

Cool Tip No. 2: Pack it tight.

Full coolers will keep your perishable foods cold and safe for much longer than half full ones. Stock up your coolers before you go outside so that you can keep everything at a safe temperature all day long. If you don’t fill your cooler with food, fill the rest with extra ice. You can also pack foods when they are frozen to maintain a nice, cold temperature for your snacks, even when it’s hot outside.

Cool Tip No. 3: Open and close it quick.

When you’re having fun in the sun, you may want a nice, cold drink to stay cool. Because beverage coolers tend to be opened more frequently, keep your drinks in a separate cooler from your perishable foods. For snacks, only take out what you need at a time, and keep the rest chilling for later. And never leave your cooler open for long!

Cool Tip No. 4: When in doubt, throw it out.

The last thing you want to bring inside from the outdoors is a case of foodborne illness. If your food has been out for a while, it may not be safe to repack and eat later. Don’t hesitate to throw away any food that has been left out in the sun for too long. Keep coolers in the shade so they can stay cool and keep your food cool, too.

Cool Tip No. 5: Remember groceries and food deliveries, too.

Don’t forget to keep your groceries and food deliveries cool when the weather is warm. If you go to the store, bring a cooler or cold storage bag with cold sources to keep your food safe until you get home. If you get groceries or meal kits delivered, track their progress so you can bring them inside immediately. Check that the temperature of your perishable foods is below 40 degrees with a thermometer, then put them in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible.

Handwashing without running water

By now, we have all heard many times that washing hands with soap and water is an effective way to get rid of germs, including those that cause foodborne illness.

We are advised to wash our hands often, especially before and after handling food. This advice is easy to follow when we have access to clean, running water. But how do you wash your hands if you find that clean, running water is out of reach?

Fortunately, good hand hygiene can be practiced in settings without clean, running water. Here are three tips for ensuring that your hands stay clean if water is not accessible:

1. Think ahead. Carry bottled water, soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer or disposable moist towelettes for any outing in case clean, running water is not accessible at your destination. Use soap and clean bottled water whenever possible to wash your hands, especially before and after handling food. If you do not have soap and water on hand, use moist towelettes or hand sanitizer.

2. Use alcohol-based sanitizer. The Centers for Disease Control recommends using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. You can tell if your sanitizer contains at least 60 percent alcohol by looking at the product label. To use hand sanitizer properly, apply the gel product to the palm of one hand, rub your hands together to ensure the gel covers all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry. This should take around 20 seconds. Do not wipe or rinse off the hand sanitizer before it is dry.

Know the limits. Sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. This may happen after working with food, doing yard work or gardening. Whenever possible, wipe dirt or grease off your hands with a clean paper towel and then apply sanitizer.

3. Use approved products. When cleaning your hands, stick to commercially produced and FDA-approved products. Although hand sanitizer might be difficult to find during the COVID-19 public health emergency, the CDC and FDA do not recommend that individuals make their own hand sanitizer. If made incorrectly, hand sanitizer can be ineffective, or unsafe. For example, there have been reports of skin burns from homemade hand sanitizer. The FDA is helping increase the availability of hand sanitizers by working with companies and pharmacies to address the supply shortage.

If you do have access to clean running water and soap, remember these simple steps to wash your hands effectively:

1. Wet hands with clean, warm running water, turn off the tap and apply soap.

2. Lather hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of hands, between your fingers and under nails.

3. Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds.

4. Rinse hands well under clean, warm running water.

5. Dry hands using a clean towel or paper towel.

Recent USDA studies have found that people wash their hands incorrectly up to 99 percent of the time, most often not scrubbing them long enough, but also not washing them often enough.

Whether using soap and water, disposable wipes or hand sanitizer, the good news is that it is possible to practice good hand hygiene in all situations to keep uninvited germs at bay.

If you have a question about proper hand washing or food safety, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. You can also find information at foodsafety.gov and follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or on Facebook at Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov.

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