Food Safety: The Universal Ingredient for a Safe Alfresco Dining Experience

perfect picnic

Food safety plays a critical role in every food preparation process, especially when preparing or consuming food outdoors. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 600 million people fall ill after consuming contaminated food every year. Outdoor dining can lead to increased risk of food contamination as foodborne bacteria can quickly multiply in warm outdoor environments. Whether preparing meals to be served on the restaurant patio or grilling out with family and friends, food safety is the universal ingredient for a safe alfresco dining experience.

Chris Boyles, VP of Food Safety for Steritech, shared his top tips to help keep consumers safe during outdoor dining and grilling season.

  1. Prevent cross-contamination. “It is imperative to keep prep areas and cooking utensils for raw meats such as chicken, burgers and other common grilling foods separate from those used with ready-to-eat foods,” said Boyles. “Thoroughly rinse all produce under running water to remove potential contaminants, even pre-washed produce should be rinsed.”

  2. Keep it clean. Prepping food for large groups of people can get distracting. “Always remember to wash counters, cutting boards, utensils and hands with hot, soapy water between tasks. Wipe surfaces with single-use towels rather than a cloth towel to avoid spreading germs. Provide hand sanitizer and remind guests to wash or sanitize their hands before eating.”

  3. Be allergy aware. Food allergies can be life-threatening. “The nine most common food allergens are: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame. Alert guests of any allergens in the food being served. Trace amounts of allergens can cause a reaction so be alert, and do not mix utensils when prepping food.”

  4. Ensure proper cooking and grilling temperatures. “Insert a meat thermometer into the densest part of the meat to determine if it’s fully cooked. Cooks should never guess or use color to determine if meats are fully cooked.” Proper cooking temperatures for popular seasonal foods are below:
    ○  Poultry – 165°F
    ○  Tenderized / Ground beef – 155°F
    ○  Whole cuts of beef / pork / lamb / fish – 145°F

  5. Maintain food safe temperatures. The safest way to thaw frozen meat is in a refrigerator. “A general rule is a 24 hour thaw time for every five pounds of meat. Cool hot foods to at least 70°F within two hours; then to 41°F or below within a total of six hours from the initial start of cooling. Shallow containers can be used to cool foods faster, but do not tightly cover foods until they have fully cooled.”

  6. Pest control: Mosquitos, flies, ants, rodents and many other pests are attracted to food, especially rotten food. “Use the ‘first in, first out’ rotation for all produce to prevent foods from going bad. Keep outdoor eating and prep areas free of food scraps and spills. Be aware of the surroundings for outdoor dining areas, excess debris can serve as the perfect harborage for pests.”

  7. Have a plan. Warmer weather brings an increased risk of severe storms such as thunderstorms, tornadoes and hurricanes, and with these storms comes flooding and power outages. “Keep an eye on the weather and for outdoor picnics or large gatherings secure a secondary indoor location for safe sheltering. Be proactive and have an emergency plan on hand in case of severe weather.”

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