Food safety is important year round, yet foodborne illness is more common in the summer months. You may wonder why this is the case, but summer activities are more often outdoors. Hiking, camping, boating and picnics typically revolve around the food we pack along to sustain us. If perishable food is not kept cool or meat is not cooked to the right temperature, bacteria can grow and cause serious illness when consumed. 

There are five easy tips to keeping your family safe when eating outdoors this summer. First, keep your cold foods cold. Be sure to pack cold food with icepacks or ice. The desired temperature to keep perishable foods is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. 

Second, organize your cooler so that perishable foods are not as exposed when the kids fetch their beverages from the cooler. Better yet, attempt to keep the cooler lid shut so the temperature maintains cool enough. Food is typically given two hours at room temperature before bacteria begins to grow. However, if the temperature is over 90 degrees outside, the bacteria growth can begin within the hour. 

Next, never cross-contaminate. Cross-contamination is swapping germs of one uncooked food onto another ready-to-eat food. Raw meat should never leak or touch your fresh fruit or veggies. This can also occur if proper hand washing does not happen. Lastly, clean your produce by rinsing under running tap water. 

The most important piece of food safety always leads back to proper hand washing. It is simple. Scrub hands with soap for 15 seconds, rinse clean and then dry. Hand washing saves lives. Sure, I may sound over dramatic, but foodborne illness can kill and hand washing avoids foodborne illness. 

Food safety is the most important part of preparing meals and snacks. The safety of food is even more important, dare I say, than nutrition. People can become unhealthy from consistently consuming junk food, but someone consuming food ridden with bacteria can become severely sick, hospitalized or even die due to the effects of foodborne illness. 

For a copy of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fact sheet, “Eating Outdoors: Handling Food Safely,” visit the local K-State Research and Extension Leavenworth County office, 613 Holiday Plaza in Lansing.

Chelsi Myer is the Family and Consumer Sciences agent for K-State Research and Extension Leavenworth County. Contact her at 913-364-5700 or chelsim@ksu.edu