Summer Food Safety Tips

Picnic and barbecue seasons are in full swing, offering families and friends opportunities for outdoor fun and some delicious meals.

But, with the CDC (Center for Disease) estimating that 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3000 die each year in the US from food-borne illness, it’s especially important this summer to make sure warm weather doesn’t give food-borne bacteria opportunities to thrive.  That’s 1 in 6 of us affected yearly!

So here are some tips to ensure that food remains your friend during these warm summer months.


  1. Keep Cold Food Cold – Transfer it directly from the refrigerator to your cooler (equipped with ice or gel ice packs). To inhibit bacterial growth, your cold food should stay under 40 degrees.
    • Tip: your cooked proteins can be frozen, and loaded into your cooler to stay colder, longer
    • Tip: A full cooler stays colder than a partially filled one
  2. Use One Cooler for Perishable Foods, and Another for Beverages – Why? Your guests likely will hit that beverage cooler multiple times during the day – and every time it’s opened summer heat exposes the contents to warming. Your perishables will stay colder if not sharing space with drinks. And keep that cooler with perishables CLOSED – even sit on it or tape it shut until mealtime.
    • Tip: keep your cooler out of direct sun and in the shade.
  3. Keep Proteins at the Bottom of Your Cooler – and make sure they are wrapped so their juices don’t mingle with other foods. Next layer up – ice or gel packs. Then dairy and foods with mayo or egg. Another layer of ice packs and then fruits and veggies up top.
  4. Make Sure Your Produce is Washed with Running Tap Water and Dried BEFORE Packing


  1. Keep Hot Food Hot – Move cooked proteins to the cooler side of your grill and serve from there. Meat and poultry are safe to eat when cooked to 160-165 degrees  – so resist the temptation to lay them out unless you know the crowd is ready to go. Hot food should stay at least 140 degrees to be safe.
    • Tip: hot food shouldn’t sit out more than 1 hour if temperatures outside exceed 90 degrees, and no more than 2 hours if cooler outside. Toss the food if left out for longer.
    • Tip: The same rules apply for cold food. And remember to serve cold food in small portions and keep the rest cold in the cooler. If serving hard boiled or deviled eggs, nestle them in ice to keep them cool.
  2. Prevent Cross Contamination – never use a plate or utensils that just held raw proteins (unless it was washed with hot, soapy water). This is really so important when serving from the grill – use a new, clean platter for your cooked food.
    • Tip: use separate cutting boards for ready to eat food and cooked foods.
  3. Make Sure Your Serving Vessels are Clean – disposables are always a safe bet.
  4. Bring Along Wet Wipes or a jug of clean water and some soap. Wash hands before serving any food, and clean or cover your picnic table too.
  5. Marinate Protein in the Refrigerator – If you want to use some marinade as a sauce, take out a portion BEFORE adding the protein so that raw meat juices (and their bacteria) don’t mingle with your sauce.
    • Tip: make sure you label your marinade as “clean marinade” to avoid mistakes.


  • Divide leftovers into smaller containers so they chill down quickly
  • Wash all platters and bowls in hot soapy water
  • Wash the interior of your coolers with hot soapy water, and air dry
  • If re-using plastic goods, wash these in hot soapy water and dry thoroughly

Just these few reminders will likely insure that your summer meals outside create positive memories, not a trip to the emergency room.



About Dr. JJ Levenstein

Dr. JJ Levenstein is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and in 2012 retired from her thriving private pediatric practice in Encino, California. She served on the staff of CHLA and Encino Tarzana Hospitals for 20 years and was consistently voted one of the Best Doctors in America® from 2003 through 2012. Drawing from her experience as a pediatrician and mom, Dr. Levenstein serves as president and co-founder of MD Moms, makers of Baby Silk, the first personal care line for babies developed by pediatrician moms. She serves on the board of United Cerebral Palsy LA, is an active writer and sits on the advisory boards of several child-centered websites. She is an accomplished chef and completed culinary school in 2013! She has had a lifelong interest in child nutrition and all things related to preventive health.

Leave a Reply