When in Doubt, Toss it Out!

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Nothing says summer like an outdoor picnic or enjoying a meal of refreshing, cold foods. But summer or winter, healthy eating involves not only what you eat, but also maintaining proper food temperatures. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 85 percent of all food-borne illness could be prevented if people handled food correctly. Before your next picnic, potluck, or family gathering, consider these simple tips for picnic food safety.

Keep hot food hot

Hot food should be kept at or above 140°F. Keeping food at proper temperatures is critical to preventing the growth of food-borne bacteria, which can multiply rapidly below this temperature. Hot foods should not sit out for more than two hours, or one hour if the temperature soars above 90°F. Throw away food left out longer.

Keep cold food cold

Cold food should be kept at 40°F or below until serving time. Like hot food, once it has been served, cold food should not sit out for longer than two hours, or one hour if the air temperature is above 90°F. Discard food that sits out longer than that. To keep foods cold, serving dishes can be placed in a shallow container filled with ice. Replace ice frequently.

Cook to the right temperature

For all cooking methods, the only reliable way to ensure the safety of meat, poultry, seafood and egg products is to use a food thermometer. Meat, poultry, seafood and egg products must be cooked to a minimum internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. For safety, only use recipes in which eggs are cooked or heated thoroughly. When using a microwave, cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking. Standing time completes the cooking, then check the internal temperature of meat with a food thermometer. When reheating sauces, soups and gravies, bring to a boil.


There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold running water, and in the microwave.

  • Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.
  • Always marinate food in the refrigerator.
  • The refrigerator allows slow, safe thawing. Make sure thawing meat and poultry juices do not drip onto other food. You can refreeze meat and poultry that has been defrosted in the refrigerator, but if it’s thawed Meat and poultry defrosted in the refrigerator may be refrozen before or after cooking, but if thawed by other methods, cook before refreezing.
  • Faster thawing is possible by placing food in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerging in
    cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes, and cook immediately after thawing.
  • After defrosting meat in a microwave, cook it immediately.


Discard any food left out at room temperature for more than two hours, or one hour if the temperature is above 90°F.

  • Place food into shallow containers and immediately put in the refrigerator or freezer for rapid
  • Reheat leftovers to 165°F.

Practice food temperature safety by following these tips:

  • When grocery shopping, purchase refrigerated or frozen items after selecting your non-perishables.
  • Cook food to the right temperature.
  • Refrigerate promptly.
  • Refrigerate perishable food within two hours, or after one hour if the air temperature is above 90°F.
  • Purchase an appliance thermometer to be sure the temperature is consistently 40°F or below in the refrigerator and 0°F or below in the freezer.
  • Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, ground meats, and variety meats within two days; other beef, veal, lamb, or pork within five days.

Is your food safe to eat? For picnic food safety, when in doubt, toss it out!

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