Healthy Cook: Food safety for the outdoor cookouts


Food Safety for the Outdoor Cookouts

The sun is shining and the kids are playing and the picnic lunch is waiting to be eaten. It’s a perfect day in Florida. But tomorrow could be a bummer if the cook and helpers don’t know how to keep the food from spoiling.

Food safety is a numbers game. And you need to remember only two of them – 40 degrees and 140 degrees. The lower one is tops for cold food and the higher one is bottom for hot foods. Keep cold foods under 40 degrees Fahrenheit and hot foods over 140 degrees. Simple.

Foods between these temperatures are in “The Danger Zone” and should be there for a maximum of two hours on cool days and one hour when it’s hot. And that’s much of the time here in the Sunshine State, especially during the summer.

Let’s get one thing out of the way. We’ve grown up hearing that mayonnaise is an upset tummy waiting to happen. That can be true if you whip up your own mayo with raw egg yolks. The kind you buy in a jar is pasteurized and safe.

Foam coolers are your friend, whether you need hot or cold. They’re cheap too, but not nearly as sturdy as the heavy duty ones big enough for wheels and double as an extra seat during an outdoor cookout.

Just for fun, and to prove a point, put a couple of cans of soda or beer and a bag of ice in a cheap foam cooler and leave it outside for a day. See how much ice is left after 24 hours. It’s amazing.

But you have to use common sense, too. There is no point to packing a cooler so full that there isn’t room for ice.

The same type of foam container can keep hot foods piping. Line it well with aluminum foil, overlapping the edges, and tucking foil into the corners. Line the lid too. Put the food in hot and it will stay that way for a few hours.

A bag of green onion slices for garnish put on top of a pan of hot food were cooked when I opened the container a couple of hours later.

Dry ice that you can buy by the pound at Publix is solid carbon dioxide and it can freeze food even if you don’t need it that cold. Water freezes at 32 degrees. Dry ice is minus 109.3 degrees. Use gloves to handle it.

I took cooked chicken wings to a charity event a couple of years ago with dry ice resting on the top aluminum container. They were cold for transporting and meant to be heated there. The wings in the top pan froze.

Don’t put dry ice on a bag of vegetables or milk or yogurt. Put it on ice cream or sherbet so you and the family can enjoy a frozen treat outside on a hot day.


Remember These Tips When Cooking Outdoors

  • Start with clean hands and utensils.
  • Raw meats and fish that will be cooked on site have to be prepared and packed separately to avoid cross contamination.
  • Clean knives, tongs, and cutting boards with mild bleach solutions.
  • Use a food thermometer. Calibrate it at home by putting in a glass of ice water and make sure it reads 32 degrees. Boiling water should read 212.
  • Keep food covered when it is in the sun.
  • For a good time you’ll talk about fondly the next day, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold and people covered in sunscreen.



story by TRENT ROWE, Food Editor


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