Food Safety – Summer’s Best Practices.

Posted by on Jun 30, 2014 in Do-It-Yourself, Frugal For Everyone | 47 comments

summer3When I was still in the workforce I participated in a number of community injury prevention initiatives. At the beginning I was really surprised to learn that most injuries are predictable and preventable, but participating, researching the stats and talking to survivors, you find out how true that is. With summer here, a major risk for preventable injury is food related.

Summer brings heat and humidity, conditions that bacteria thrive on and which greatly increase the risk of food poisoning. Add the more casual approach to food handling with barbecues and picnics and the risk increases even more. I developed this best practices list as a reminder of food safety practices and to offer a few useful tips to help keep everyone safe this summer.

The obvious place to start is with shopping and transporting foods home. The precautions taken for that depends in large part on how far you need to travel. In my case, food can easily sit in the car for two or three hours from the time I leave home to the time I return. It doesn’t take long for a car to heat up, as shown below, and opening the windows a bit really doesn’t help a lot. Leaving food sitting in that heat, without taking precautions, is asking for trouble. https://i2.wp.com/www.ggweather.com/heat/hot_car_30min.jpg?resize=348%2C252

From 80F to 114F in just 30 minutes –  From http://www.ggweather.com/heat/

How long does it take for a car to get hot?

Outside Temp.

Time It takes to reach

In-Car Temp.

75F/24C

30 minutes

120F/49C

85F/29.5C

7-10 minutes

100F/38C

100F/38C

15 minutes

140F/60C

According to: www.dfps.state.tx.us/seeandsave/hotcars-stats

Best Practices – Food Shopping and Transporting:

  • Plan the shopping trip so that buying groceries is the last activity of the day, with the return home right afterwards.
  • There are a lot of low-cost containers available to help protect food while in transport, including coolers, ice packs, insulated bags, and reusable bags.
shopping paraphernalia

My Shopping Paraphernalia: Cooler, IcePacks, Shopping Binder, Insulated Bags, Reusable Bags, Plastic Bags for Liners.

Instructions for making the shopping binder can be found in MY SHOPPING BINDER – A Frugal Shopper’s Organizer.

The most important food safety fact  – Keep foods out of the danger zone – between 40F (4C) to 140F (60C). That is the temperature range where bacteria will grow the fastest, posing  the greatest danger.

At the store:

  • Make a habit of picking up all the non-perishables first, the refrigerated products next, then the deli items and finally the frozen foods.
  • Carefully place easily bruised produce – bananas, tomatoes, berries, etc. in a separate bag so nothing heavy gets put in with them. Bruised products deteriorate faster, especially in hot weather.
  • Double bag all meat and fish products in those cheap bags used for produce and keep all those items well separated. Some stores, like Walmart, still provide plastic bags free of charge. Collect a few of those to line your reusable bags to avoid dripping and cross-contamination and place high-risk products, such as meat and fish, in them, but keep those foods well separated. Using those bags as liners also prevents bacteria growing in the reusable bags, especially in hot weather. Place the bags with the high-risk products into the cooler with ice-packs. If there was any leakage, discard the plastic bag and replace with a clean one.
  • Place a freezer pack or two in the bottom of plastic-bag lined insulated bags for the dairy products. Open the egg carton and move the eggs around to make sure there are no broken eggs which will speed up the spoiling and possible contamination process.
  • Buy deli items towards the end of the shopping trip and keep away from other foods. Designating one or two reusable bags strictly for deli products – one for hot foods and one for cold – and keeping those lined with plastic bags, prevents many problems.
  • Buy frozen foods last and load them on the conveyor belt first. Place the insulated bag(s) to be used on top of the food – you do need to watch the cashier because sometimes they want to change things around. For frozen foods, use insulated bags, even when placed into a cooler. Double protection. Coolers should be kept inside the car, not in the trunk. If its really hot and it takes a while to get home, besides having the cold packs/ice on the bottom of the cooler, it’s a good idea to place a couple of the cold packs on top of the food since cold air drops.
  • High-Risk Foods – Special attention should be given to these foods. Keep cold foods cold – below 40F/5C and hot foods hot – above 140F/60C.
    • Meat – Raw or Cooked, which includes red meat such as beef and pork, poultry products, and any prepared foods containing these meats– casseroles, pasta dishes, pizza, etc.;
    • Any kind of seafood product;
    • Processed meats;
    • Eggs and products containing eggs, such as salads, mayonnaise and quiche;
    • Deli foods – sandwiches, rolls, meats, etc.

Minimize the risk by keeping the amount of time these foods spend in transport as short as possible. Once you arrive home, take care of the frozen, deli and high-risk foods first, then the bakery goods and the produce and finally the canned and boxed goods. In the summertime, ground beef and poultry products should be frozen unless they will be used within a day, freeze other meats that won’t be used for two or three days.

Homemade food protectors for the backyard or at the picnic site.backyard food protectors 2

Using duct tape, I tape together two disposable roasting pans so that the tape serves as a hinge and one of the pans becomes the lid. For condiments and meat I make liberal use of icepacks, as shown below. For going to a picnic, I do not transport food in these, but store the food in coolers and use these containers to carry the disposable dishes, tablecloths, etc. I only use the protectors for food once we’ve reached the picnic site. I keep these units handy and they serve me well, at least all summer and often well into the next year.

backyard food protectors

Best Practices – Backyard Grilling:

  • Marinades – Do not leave marinating foods on the counter but place them in the fridge during the process. If some of the marinade is to be used as a dipping sauce, remove that portion first and set it aside, before adding the meat. Never reuse marinades.
  • Pre-cooking, partially cooking or microwave-defrosting meats prior to barbecuing should be done immediately before placing them on the hot barbecue.
  • Keep condiments in a cooler or use the suggestion for homemade protectors below.
  • Use a meat thermometer to make sure meat is properly cooked to safety standards. Wash the thermometer between readings to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Use different platters for raw and cooked foods – do not allow cooked foods to come in contact with the juices of the uncooked foods.
  • No food should sit out at room temperature for more than an hour. Make abundant use of coolers and ice packs – the minimal cost is more than offset by the safety factor.

Caution: Serious injuries have been reported due to bristles coming loose from the barbecue brush then sticking to the grill and attaching to the food. If using a brush to clean the barbecue, please check carefully to make sure no bristles are left behind.

 Best Practices – Picnics:

  • Keep hot and cold foods separated and at the correct temperature.
  • Use an insulated cooler and lots of ice-packs or ice. Frozen foods can also serve to keep things cool but these must then be used up at the picnic site –thawed food should never be returned to the freezer.
  • Organize the coolers so that the first foods packed are the last foods used. This prevents the cooler from opening too often or too long, which allows cool air out and hot air in.
  • It’s a good idea to use one of the insulated bags for beverages during the drive for convenience, but also to prevent opening the cooler. Since beverages will be in greater demand than food, it makes sense to keep a separate beverage cooler to use at the picnic site to prevent the main cooler  from being opened and closed too often.
  • Any foods prepared with mayonnaise or egg should be kept in the cooler. Try putting these items in a separate container placed in the cooler. That way you just remove one container, take out the items you want and return the container to the cooler – the cooler loses the least amount of cool air this way. Leftover food that hasn’t been left out can be safely used upon returning home.
  • Coolers should be placed in the coolest, shadiest spot of the picnic site.
  • Make sure to pack lots of water for drinking and cleaning – pack a basin, washcloths, and towels.
  • Other things to pack: tablecloth, blanket(s), hand-sanitizers and a First-aid Kit.

Summertime is the time to relax and have fun. Don’t allow preventable injuries to spoil yours.

Talk to you again next week,

Lenie

47 Comments

  1. Hi Lenie, Very good check-list for food safety. It is easy to forget how much a car interior heats up in Summer and we need to protect perishable foods just as we protect pets. Trust a Canadian to come up with another use for duct tape. Red Green would be proud of you !

    • Paul, I never thought about the Red Green angle but you’re right – that was a neat pickup on your part. Thanks for commenting.
      Lenie

  2. Lenie- You are so right about the heat and perishable foods. It maybe a pain to go home right after shopping but it is an important step. We use coolers that are hard plastic or the insulated cooler bags and have a bag of ice in the bottom. I take them into the grocery store and the perishables are put int here before I leave the store. Little extra work but it is worth it.

    • Hi Arleen – in the really hot weather, I like to take a few insulated bags with icepacks in them into the store. When you realize how fast the car heats up, it sure makes you think twice, doesn’t it?
      Lenie

  3. Lenie, thanks for the great article. I have a tendency not to be particularly conscientiousness about food safety issues, but this article is such a good reminder. I have gotten food poisoned before, and given the info in this article, it seems to me it may have been prevented by following some of these practices. Thanks again for all the helpful info!
    Michele

    • Hi Michele – I guess after seeing what injuries can do – no matter the cause – I do tend to take this issue seriously. It may be a little more work but I think its very much worth it.
      Lenie

  4. Good advice for food safety, Lenie. You actually sound like my brother. Personally am so used to being in all kinds of hot and dangerous places I don’t pay much attention. And I didn’t even get stomach problems in Africa:-)

    • Hi Catarina – I think your whole way of thinking supports healthy eating, so am not overly surprised to learn that you’ve never had any problems. What an exciting life you do lead.
      Lenie

  5. Hi Lenie; talk about perfect timing. with the july 4th victoria day and other independence celebrations coming up, you couldn’t have released this at a better time. one thing that caught my attention was your mention of a shopping trip taking hours. It got me to thinking about how blessed i am that we can leave the grocery store and be home with everything put away in less than 30 minutes. I was also impressed with the amount of thought you have given the subject and the extent of your preparations. my old scout master would have been proud of you. makes me wonder if such things are covered in any of the merit badges. when i got mine for cooking i don’t recall there being as much worry about contaminated food back in the 80’s. thanks for this post. I hope a lot of people will print it out and post it on their refrigerator. take care, Max

    • Hi Max – you know, you may have something there about having a merit badge for food safety or do they still have home economics classes – that would be another good place to teach awareness. Food poisoning can affect people from tummy ache to much worse, including death. If this post can help avoid just one serious injury, that would be great.
      Lenie

  6. All great tips, Lenie! Living in Southern California, we have our share of hot days and I do my grocery shopping late in the day and bring coolers or cooling bags. I am very careful about eating food at picnics and BBQ’s. Food poisoning is no fun! Excellent that you took the time to do so much research! Thanks for sharing with us.

    • Hi Laurie – Living in Southern California, protecting food from heat must be a way of life for you but it sounds like you have it well in hand. The research wasn’t all that much – just stuff I do and remembered from my injury prevention days.
      Lenie

  7. This was great checklist! I never really thought about how quickly the car heats up! I have been using insulated bags with coolies for several years…since I moved to Florida and now to South Carolina. But by far the easiest and safest practice for me has been to go to the grocery and come right home, even with my insulated bags. It’s a 15 minute drive:) But I can’t get over how many people at a picnic, take out deviled eggs and let them sit for hours! Personally, I get then when they are first unpacked! Laugh!

    • Hi Jacquie – eggs would be one of the first things to go bad – they’ve got the double whammy – eggs and mayonnaise. I’m with you, gobble them up right away or even better, don’t bring them to picnics. I love those insulated bags with coolpacks. They not only keep foods cold, but they’re sturdy enough to act as protection.
      Lenie

  8. This is very important. I don’t think many people realize that when temperatures are high your food is at risk of spoiling just on the ride home. I have learned since moving to Texas to bring a cooler with me when I go grocery shopping so I can put my meat in or produce depending on what I’m buying.

    • Hi Niekka – I’m sure that living in Texas, you could probably teach me a thing or two about keeping things cool. I live in an area that probably only has 30 days where the weather is in excess of 80F and even here, heat becomes a factor. It doesn’t take much to throw a cooler in the car, does it?
      Lenie

  9. Hi Lenie! These are great tips. I love how you listed everything in detail. It is true that a lot of food poisoning happens in the summer and we should take extra precautions in keeping our food as fresh as possible. I will bookmark this article. My sons love going to the beach with their friends during summer and it would help that they know how to properly handle their food.

    • Hi Eileen – thanks for the comment and I’m glad that you think it will help your sons. When I was still in the ‘injury prevention’ field, it always bothered me how many injuries were caused just by neglecting the small things. It always seemed to be the small details that led to serious problems.
      Lenie

  10. Some years back I left my music keyboard player on the back windshield of the car and came back to a curled up and non working musical instrument as the sun had shrunk the plastic that makes up the unit. And I can just imagine the impact on food. Great post.

    • Hi Welli – That must have been an unpleasant and costly surprise but a great example of how hot a car can get. I know I’ve gotten in my car before and had to open the doors for awhile so the steering wheel would cool down enough for me to handle it. I’m glad you liked the post.
      Lenie

  11. Hi Lenie,
    Happy Canada Day!
    You really have done an excellent job of being thorough. Yes, many things are preventable, and with enough forethought, can be managed properly. Another aspect of food safety that is important is how we handle food if we catch a summer cold. Keeping our hands clean and the food germ free reduces the possibility of others getting sick.

  12. All great tips and good reminders. I think I manage to follow most, if not all, of them on a consistent basis. On some Saturday morning my husband and I start off the day by driving into town and going to the farmers market. We always bring a cooler for the things we buy since we usually don’t go home immediately afterwards.

  13. Maybe it’s because one year I had food poisoning from a ham sandwich at a friends house but ever since then I shop differently. Including many of your tips here. My most used is to ALWAYS (I do mean always) have more than one insulated bag in the car. I end up having to go to about 3 different grocery stores where we live so I like to know I won’t run out of room at the end of the first store! Thanks.

  14. Hi Lenie, more and more we are discovering exactly what you are saying that so many things are predictable and preventable. The rule in our house is “if unsure, chuck it out”. Thanks for your checklist Lenie, makes a lot of good sense.

    • Hello All – thanks for your wonderful comments – I agree Patricia that you need to end up having more than one insulated bag in the car. Because of the distances, and because I’m retired and don’t get out much anymore, my shopping trips are always planned in advance. Bill, good point about the hand-washing, Thanks.
      Lenie

  15. I have never thought to plan out what groceries to get first at the store and how to package them for the ride home. It’s crazy how hot it gets inside the car in such a short amount of time. I need to dig out my insulated reusable bags now that it is hot out!

  16. Hi Lenie,

    Thanks for this guide at such an important grilling time of the year. We generally take a cooler with us when shopping and put whatever needs to stay cool in that with an ice pack or two. About the marinading food in the fridge, I always thought that it makes for a better taste as well when it cools a bit. I’m guessing you were more focused on safety but it can add some flavor as well.

  17. Lenie – Very good tips for the summer and the rest of the year too when buying frozen foods. I like the way you have used tape to make lids for your food containers.

    Shopping is a major chore but thankfully distances in UK aren’t so far and it doesn’t get as hot as some parts of USA. But still frozen vegetables and icecream don’t take too long to melt and refreezing them again could cause food poisoning too.

  18. Fascinating post, Lenie! The speed at which the temp rises in a car is truly amazing!

    As I’ve lived in the country for more than 30 years, I always travel with a cooler bag in my car so that I can put foods that need refrigeration right into it in the store, and keep them cool until I get home.

  19. Food safety is always a huge concern but more so during the hot summer months. It is SO SO SO important to properly store your food and if in doubt throw it out. 🙂

  20. Lenie, this a great list of tips. You covered so many issues here! I shop the same way you do, and I was so happy when our grocery store started providing the plastic produce bags by the meat department. There’s nothing grosser than leaky meat packages. I did not know that about the BBQ bristle brushes. I need to check ours, I guess. Thanks for all the information.

  21. I think sometimes the problem is, summer is FUN. And when we have fun, we forget common sense. Good advice and recommendations.

  22. Hi Lenie 🙂
    Some great advice here, thanks for taking the time to inform us and give us some good advice on staying safe.

  23. Thanks for the reminder about food safety! I’m surprised there aren’t more illnesses since food tends to sit out unrefrigerated at picnics.

    • Thanks for the comments. I enjoy reading how all of you handle the food and the shopping. I know that many of the milder forms of food poisoning aren’t officially reported and don’t become part of the stats. But if you talk to people, its amazing how many of them will admit to leaving a picnic or barbecue feeling sick.
      Lenie

  24. I also cook all meat products well done. I’ve never had medium rare or what not. And I always ask for less than well done burgers to have more time on the grill.

  25. I have gotten food poisoning before and it is a horrible experience. Sense I live in Tempe Arizona I have to go home after the grocery store in the summer. It gets up to 122 degrees sometimes. It is a good reminder on staying safe with food. Thanks 🙂

  26. Hi Lenie, you’re right, I usually do shopping on my way going home, to avoid the food to perish. For frozen food and fresh meat I use to put them all in an insulated bag 🙂

  27. Excellent tips. You’re so write about how easy it is to get sloppy with food safety in the summer. I’ve found my self contemplating permanently leaving a cooler in my car so that if I can’t go straight home, I can at least try to keep perishable some place cool. BTW, I love the hinged containers for picnics! 🙂

  28. These are some great tips. It’s been a hot summer so far. I nee to make sure that my food stays cool if I’m outside.

  29. Good and thorough information on summer food safety. I like the idea of using the disposable roaster pans with ice packs for food serving. Ingenious and simple.

  30. These are some really good tips. One thing that I do if I know I have a lot of running around to do is put a cooler in the car with ice packs to keep the stuff that may spoil if I’m not going straight home. There was a story a few weeks ago about a father leaving his kid in the car and the kid died from the heat. People are so busy now a days that a lot of safety for food and life is disregarded.

  31. Excellent points! I’m generally mindful, especially after suffering from salmonella food poisoning many years ago. (Chicken had been thawed on a counter.) It was a hellish experience, apparently with symptoms similar to cholera! Thank you for all your practical and wise reminders.

  32. With summer in its peak, these tips can be quite useful in keeping food items fresh and healthy. I waste a lot of food unintentionally by allowing them to rot in heat. Planning the refrigerator wisely can help a lot in minimizing energy wastage. Good post.

  33. I thought I was just being type A when grouping my groceries together with refrigerated items and frozen foods, turns out I was already practicing food safety! Thank you for all of the helpful tips!

  34. Lenie, you are wise to encourage everyone to think about food safety. I like packing my shopping bags myself, because if I buy perishables, I want them to go into the refrigerator first. Now, I also try to encourage my children to put perishables back in the refrigerator; the hard part is my temptation is to put them away myself without giving them a chance to prove they can do it.

  35. Great tips Lenie ! Great advice ! Everyone should know this. With these temperatures, these tips are highly a must-know. Regards from Biljana!