How to Keep Summer Foods Fresh and Safe
Summer is the season to be outdoors with friends and family at picnics, barbecues and many other events. But the warm weather also brings an increase in foodborne illnesses when food sits out in hot, humid conditions. Make sure your summer party is memorable for reasons other than food poisoning by taking steps to keep food fresh and safe.

Dr. Claudia Fajardo-Lira, member for the Institute of Food Technologists, says most foodborne bacteria thrive in summer’s steamy conditions. “It’s critical to protect yourself and your family from foodborne illness like E. coli and salmonella,” she says. “Always remember to wash your hands and, if you don’t have running water, bring along a water jug, some soap and paper towels; or use hand sanitizer.”

Fajardo-Lira suggests following food safety steps recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

Get Food Safely to its Destination

  • Keep cold food cold and stored at 40 F or below to prevent the growth of bacteria. Use a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs and limit the number of times you open the cooler.
  • Pack beverages and perishable foods in separate coolers.
  • Keep raw meat, seafood and poultry wrapped securely to keep juices from contaminating other foods.
  • Rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables under running water before packing and eating.

Grill to Perfection

  • Never marinate foods outdoors or on a kitchen counter. Always marinate in the refrigerator. Do not reuse marinade that has touched raw meat.
  • Cook food thoroughly and use a food thermometer to ensure proper temperature. Steaks and fish should reach 145 F, pork 160 F and poultry and hamburgers 165 F.
  • Shellfish should be closed tightly before cooking and cooked until their shells open.
  • Keep hot food hot by moving finished meats to the side of the grill rack, away from the coals.
  • Do not reuse platters or utensils that have touched raw meat, poultry or seafood.

Keep Food Out of the “Danger Zone”

  • Never let your picnic food sit outside in temperatures between 40 F and 90 F for more than two hours. When temperatures are above 90 F, food should not sit out for more than one hour. Discard any food that has been left out for a longer time.
  • Perishable foods can be placed on ice or in a shallow container set in a deep pan filled with ice.
  • Wrap hot food well and place in an insulated container until serving.

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Pantry Foods 101

Pantry foods are a convenient and inexpensive way to offer your family nutritious meals. However, like fresh foods, pantry foods do have limits on storage and quality.

First of all, quality is not the same as safety. Quality of a food affects the texture or taste like stale cereal. Safety of a food can affect quality in terms of appearance and taste, but have an unsafe level of something harmful, like pathogenic bacteria. For example, damaged or improperly canned food may contain Clos­tridium botulinum (which causes botulism) therefore mak­ing the food unsafe. It is possible that foods might have changes in quality but still be safe; alternatively, foods may have dangerous levels of a pathogen or toxin and not appear visually to have a problem.

Food manufacturers often help assure quality by listing product dating most products. Note that this practice is not mandatory. The most commonly product dating terms are:

  • A "Sell-By" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A "Best if Used By (or Before)" date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A "Use-By" date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.

In general, for the best quality, high-acid canned foods such as tomatoes, grapefruit and pineapple can be stored up to 18 months; low-acid canned foods like meat, poultry, fish and most vegetables will keep 2 to 5 years — if the can is in good condition and is stored in a cool, clean, dry place.

Take Home Tips

  • Purchase the product before the date expires.
  • Use the first in, first out rule of thumb. Use the oldest products first and the newest products later. Always place the newly purchased products in back of the same products, but also check expiration/use by dates.
  • Storage cabinets should be cool and dry. High temperature or humidity may reduce storage time.
  • Insect infestation can occur in any home. Avoid purchasing damaged packages of food and keep cupboard shelves clean. Storing foods in tightly sealed glass, metal or rigid plastic containers may help.
  • Storing pantry foods might be safe beyond recommended dates, but the quality (flavor and texture) and nutritive value will decrease.
  • Foods can develop an off odor; flavor or appearance due to spoilage bacteria or chemical reactions and you should not use it for quality reasons.
  • NEVER use food from leaking, bulging, rusting, badly dented, cracked jars, or any container that spurts when liquid when opening. Throw those products out immediately.

In This Article

  1. Food Safety and Defense

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