Summer Food Safety

For much of the United States, July brings hot and humid temperatures: the dog days of summer.

Most people remember to heed safety tips when they are setting off fireworks or diving into a lake, but there is a hidden danger lurking where you wouldn’t think to check: on your picnic table!

Especially with these high temperatures, food safety must be one of your main concerns at any backyard barbeque this year. According to the CDC, 1 in 6 Americans get sick each year from eating contaminated food. Don’t let your party contribute to that statistic!


Meat grilling over a fire
Don’t let your tongs touch both raw meat and cooked meat without being sanitized in between.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers the following tips for grilling:

  1. Keep it clean – ensure you have access to clean water or moist towelettes and soap for hands, utensils, and platters.
  2. Keep it separated – raw food and cooked food should be handled on different surfaces, including cutting boards. Even the “meat juices” can contaminate cooked food.
  3. Cook it all the way through – do not partially cook meat to finish grilling later. The USDA recommends using a food thermometer to ensure that your meat has finished cooking.

For more extensive tips including safe temperatures and instructions for smoking meat, visit the USDA Grilling and Food Safety page.


The Food and Drug Administration offers a great resource guide called “Serving Up Safe Buffets”. If you are planning a party or picnic, follow these simple tips:

  1. Create small serving platters – you can store backup dishes in the refrigerator, or keep additional hot dishes in the oven (set to 200-250°F) to ensure that all guests have access to safe food.
  2. Hot and Cold – hot dishes should remain above 140°F to keep bacteria at bay, and cold foods should be kept at 40°F or colder. In other words, keep hot foods hot, and keep cold foods cold!
  3. Don’t just refill – bacteria from party-goers hands can multiply at room temperature. It is better to just set out an entirely new serving tray than refill a dish.
  4. 2-Hour Rule – If your perishable dishes are not temperature controlled, they should only be left at room temperature for 2 hours before being refrigerated. If the temperature outside is above 90 degrees, this should be reduced to 1 hour! If you wait longer than these times, the food should be discarded.

Enjoy the season with family and friends, but stay vigilant when it comes to food safety.

Arin Yost

Arin is a Program Analyst at the Atlanta Regional Commission, where his work focuses on health disparities and equity across the Atlanta region.