Practice safety when preparing outdoor meals

Vicki Hayman

Branding season has begun in our area. A branding crew loves a hearty meal with dessert. So, I have decided to share information on food safety.

Good food safety practices are essential in preventing food-borne illness. Some of the more common culprits of food-borne illnesses include E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter, resulting in various gastrointestinal symptoms ranging from mild to severe.  

Sometimes the usual safety controls in a kitchen, such as hand-washing facilities and refrigeration, may be limited when cooking and/or eating at an outdoor venue. This makes it even more critical for you to be prepared and follow food safety guidelines. Follow these tips to keep your food safe when eating outside.


Wash hands well and often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom and before cooking or eating. 

Use separate preparation areas for raw and cooked food.

Defrost meat, poultry, and seafood in the refrigerator or submerge sealed packages in cold water. You can also microwave-defrost if the food will be cooked immediately afterward.

Marinate food in the fridge, not the counter top. Set aside some marinade before marinating food for a sauce later. Don’t reuse marinade that contains raw meat.

Wash all produce before eating, even if you plan to peel it. The knife used for peeling can carry bacteria into the part you eat. Pre-cut or peeled fruits and vegetables must be refrigerated or kept on ice to maintain quality and safety.

Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and work surfaces frequently with hot, soapy water.

If the eating site doesn’t offer clean water access, use a water jug, soap, and paper towels. Also, consider carrying moist disposable towelettes for cleaning your hands and surfaces.

Remember to pack a food thermometer if cooking food at the destination! In addition, attach a thermometer inside each cooler. 

Packing coolers

A best practice to increase food safety is to start with a clean cooler. First, wash the cooler with warm soapy water and spray it with a bleach solution or disinfectant spray. Completely dry the interior.

Place food from the refrigerator directly into an insulated cooler immediately before leaving home.

Use ice blocks or ice packs to keep the cooler and cold food at 40°F or below to prevent bacterial growth. Aim for an ice to content ratio of 2:1.

Pack raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a separate smaller cooler. Otherwise, securely bag or put raw meat in sealed containers and store it at the bottom of the cooler where the juices can’t drip onto other foods causing cross-contamination. Food that doesn’t need much refrigeration (some fruits and vegetables) goes on top. A full cooler keeps cool longer.

Keep and transport hot food in a casserole carrier, slow cooker, or thermos.

Place beverages in a separate cooler; easy drink access will keep perishable food coolers closed.

When loading your vehicle, keep the cooler inside the car with you if possible. Avoid putting it in a hot trunk or strapped to the roof where it is apt to sit in the direct sunlight. 

Once at the site, keep coolers in the shade and out of the direct sun until serving time. Avoid opening the coolers repeatedly so the food stays cold longer.


Have clean utensils and platters available. When dirty equipment and utensils are used, microorganisms will be transferred to the food.

The temperature of the food is critical for food safety. Cook food to the correct temperatures ─ use a food thermometer to be sure. Never partially cook food for finishing later because you increase the risk of bacterial growth. Pork, lamb, fish, eggs: 145°F; ground beef and pork: 155°F; poultry 165°F.

When removing foods from the cooking source, place them on a clean platter.

Never use the same platter and utensils for cooked food that you used for raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.

Keep hot foods at 135°F or warmer until serving time. Wrap it well and place it in an insulated container.

When reheating food, be sure it reaches 165°F. Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a boil.

Do NOT touch food with bare hands. Use tongs, forks, gloves, deli tissues, or scoops to handle food.

Time and Temperature 

Control insects. Keep bugs at bay by placing plastic wrap or foil over food until ready to serve. 

Don’t let hot or cold food sit in the “Danger Zone” (between 40°F and 135°F) for more than 2 hours – or 1 hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90°F. If it does, discard it! 

Follow these four steps to protect your family and friends and keep food safe: 1) Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often. 2) Separate: Separate raw meats from other foods. 3) Cook: Cook to a safe internal temperature. 4) Chill: Refrigerate food promptly.

With proper preparation, you can tempt your guests with an array of foods while still keeping food safety in mind!




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