Eating outside this summer? Keep it safe

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More information:

• Washington State Department of Health: http://www.doh.wa.gov/CommunityandEnvironment/Food.aspx

• U.S. Department of Agriculture: http://www.isitdoneyet.gov

Summertime and the living is easy, particularly for bacteria that thrive on food that's improperly prepared or stored. And when it's hot, bacteria that cause foodborne illness can multiply quickly.

That's why it's important to take precautions when you prepare and serve food outdoors, away from the convenience of refrigeration and hot running water.

So if you're having a picnic for that upcoming family reunion, make sure it's remembered for great food and entertaining relatives, not for a nasty gastrointestinal outbreak.

Observe these food safety guidelines for eating outdoors in warm weather:

Reduce bacteria

• Wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after you handle food, especially raw meat.

• If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.

Prepare food at home

• If possible, prepare food at home, where soap and running water are available.

• Use separate utensils, cutting boards and dishware for raw meat and don't allow raw meat juices to contaminate other food.

• Wash whole fruits, including melons, and vegetables under running water before cutting.

Store food safely

• If refrigeration is unavailable, store food in an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 F or colder. Keep the cooler in the shade.

• Throw away prepared food that sits out for more than two hours.

• Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter.

• Store raw meats in watertight containers and separately from other foods.

• Keep cut fruits and vegetables cold until eaten.

Thaw safely

• Completely thaw meat and poultry before grilling, so it cooks more evenly.

• Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing.

• You can microwave defrost if the food will be placed immediately on the grill.

Use a thermometer

Make sure meats are cooked thoroughly. Recommended temperatures:

• Ground beef, pork; 160 F.

• Steaks, chops, roasts, and fish: 145 F.

• Whole or ground chicken and other poultry, casseroles, stuffing: 165 F.

• Hot dogs and sausages: 165 F.

Serve hot foods immediately after cooking. Use a clean plate for foods that come off the grill rather than reusing the plate that held raw meat.

Don Strick is public information officer for Clark County Public Health.