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6 Ways to Keep Food Safe in Hot Weather

Food safety and proper handling are essential during the hot summer months, when barbecues and picnics mean that food is often left out in high temperatures. Warm weather provides an ideal environment for bacteria, and it is important to take proper precautions to ensure no one gets sick. Take a look at the strategies below to make sure you have the information you need to eat safely this summer.

Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold

Bacteria thrive in what Health Canada calls the “danger zone” between 4-60 degrees Celsius (40-140 degrees F). Perishable foods, especially meat, should not be kept at room temperature for more than two hours. That limit drops to an hour when the temperature outside is above 30 degrees Celsius. Defrosting or marinating meat and other foods that are not ready to be cooked or consumed should be kept in the refrigerator to prevent bacteria growth.

If you’re packing a picnic or transporting foods to be cooked somewhere else, make sure you have coolers that are well stocked with ice or ice packs. Health Canada also recommends using separate coolers for food and drinks, as the drink cooler will likely be opened frequently and warm up more quickly.

Use a meat thermometer

It is not always possible to tell if meat has been cooked to a sufficient temperature by looking at it. A thermometer will ensure that the food is cooked evenly and safely.

Separate raw and cooked food

Never use the same utensils for raw meat as you use for produce or cooked meat without thoroughly washing them first. Moving from raw to cooked, or from meat to produce, increases the risk of cross-contamination. Instead, use a different cutting board for meat and vegetables, never use the same plates or knives for raw and cooked foods, and keep raw meat well-sealed and separated from your other foods during transportation.

Wash your hands!

This simple step will go a long way towards avoiding cross-contamination and the spread of bacteria. Always wash your hands after touching raw meat, poultry, or fish. Dry your hands with paper towel – cloth towels accumulate bacteria.

Be extra careful with risky foods

Raw meat and fish, unpasteurized milk, and undercooked eggs pose an increased risk in warm temperatures. Be sure these products have been kept sufficiently chilled before cooking, and do not cross contaminate with other foods.

Look for signs of spoilage

Changes in smell, colour, or texture can all indicate that food has started to go bad. If you notice an unpleasant odour, a slimy or slick texture, or discolouration, dispose of the food. If you’re in doubt about whether an item is safe to consume, it’s probably best to avoid it. Certain food-borne illnesses can be quite severe, and it’s not worth the risk if a piece of meat seems questionable.

Be aware that seniors, young children, pregnant women, or people with pre-existing illnesses have a greater risk of becoming seriously ill from food poisoning, and should be particularly cautious. Mindfulness of proper food handling procedures will help ensure a safe and healthy end to the summer for everyone.