Summertime Safety

Summertime triggers an American ritual: the rolling out of the grills, the dusting off of the patio furniture, and the beginning of BBQ season! Unfortunately, each year, many hungry participants end up bent over the porcelain throne, suffering from the ill effects of grill-side grubbing. Why? With most of us grazing our way through lazy afternoons and evenings outside, food that is improperly stored, prepared or cooked becomes the enemy due to proliferation of bacteria that can cause food poisoning and food-borne bacterial illness.

To prevent that from happening, here are a few tips to get you through a summer of outdoor grillin’ without anything but pleasant memories.

Grilling at summer weekend


  • Especially if you are feeding crowds, purchase meat, dairy and produce that is the freshest you can find. Transport those foods immediately from the market to your refrigerator or freezer so that temperatures don’t rise within the food.
  • Look at expiration dates and make sure that the date you will serve the food isn’t beyond that stamped deadline.
  • Before storing produce, if there are damaged fruits or vegetables, or any visible mold, remove before placing in the refrigerator.

Food Preparation


  • Always defrost meat, fish, and poultry in the refrigerator – not on a countertop, not in the microwave, and not in a hot water bath. Start that process the night before so that your protein stays at a consistent temperature below 40 degrees F.


  • If you are hard-boiling eggs for picnics, place immediately into an ice bath after cooking, and then return to the refrigerator.  Don’t leave them out at room temperature, especially if the shells have been removed.


  • If you are marinating protein, and LOVE the sauce, take a portion out BEFORE adding the rest to your bag. That “clean” portion can then be heated as a sauce, without fear that bacteria in the protein contaminated your marinade.
  • Always toss out leftover marinade if it has made contact with your protein.


  • Always use a separate cutting surface for each protein, or thoroughly wash your cutting area with HOT, soapy water (that includes washing your knife, too), between projects.
  • Never let cooked food sit on the same plate or platter as raw or undercooked food.

Food storage:

  • If it’s a long hot day outside, have a separate cooler with lots of ice for just the salads and other foods before serving. The interior temperature should be 40 degrees or below to be safe.
    • If you don’t have a separate cooler for cold goods (especially if they have dairy, eggs or mayo in them), then fill a large bowl or cookie sheet with ice and place the foods directly on top. Check for melting ice, and replace frequently.
    • Take your cold food out JUST BEFORE serving, and return to the coolers or the refrigerator within 2 hours (1 hour if it’s hot outside)
    • When in doubt (if food has been out longer than 2 hours), throw it out!
    • For hot food – cook to order if possible, or cook 4-6 pieces at a time so service is immediate – spatula to plate is best!
    • Don’t let your protein sit at room temperature before cooking. Take it immediately from the refrigerator to the grill.


  • Invest in a meat thermometer, as it is impossible to tell by touch what the safe temperature is!
  • Make all your burgers the same thickness so that “done time” is the same for all.
  • Monitor your protein’s temperature.
    • Internal temperature for chicken is 160 degrees. (165 for bone in chicken breast.)
    • For beef and lamb – medium rare is 135, medium 145, well done 160.
    • For pork, aim for 160 to be safe.
    • And remember to always start your fire safely, have a fire extinguisher, box of salt, and a hose nearby, and keep little ones far from the hot flames.

When the party is over….

  • Return all food to the refrigerator or iced cooler within 2 hours of serving (1 hour if it’s hot).
  • If food looks, smells or tastes “off,” dump it. It’s not worth the risk!



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.

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