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Healthy Eating

Ask Our Dietitian

There’s nothing better than eating outside on a beautiful day, but I’m worried about keeping our food healthy and safe this summer. What are some easy ways to prevent foodborne illnesses?

Answer courtesy of Andrea Wilcox, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.N., Clinical Nutrition Manager at Harlem Hospital Center


Who doesn’t love a good picnic or cookout during the summer? Sharing a meal at the beach or in the backyard sure can be enjoyable—but not if you acquire a foodborne illness afterward. The most important rule of thumb when eating outside in the summer is that hot foods must be kept hot and cold foods must be kept cold. Generally, bacteria grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F, which is known as “the danger zone.” Because of this, it is important to keep foods below 40 F or above 140 F. If you are transporting food when camping, hiking, or picnicking, it’s best to bring cold foods that can be kept chilled, since it is more difficult to keep hot foods hot enough on the go.

Here are some simple food safety tips that can keep you and your family healthy all summer long:

  • When in doubt, choose chilled foods over hot foods. You can refrigerate or freeze the food and drinks overnight and then place them in a cooler with frozen gel-packs on the day of your event.
  • When grilling hamburger patties at your cookout, they should be cooked to 160 F. Hot dogs should be cooked until steaming hot.
  • Always marinate foods in the refrigerator. And remember, if you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce for the cooked food, reserve a portion separately before adding the raw meat, poultry, or seafood.
  • Be sure to reheat leftovers to 165 F.
  • No food should remain in the danger zone (40 to 140 F) for more than two hours.
  • Be sure you have a way to wash your hands before and after handling food and prior to eating. Bring disposable wipes or hand sanitizer if you aren’t sure you’ll have access to a nearby sink.


Reference: United States. USDA. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Food Safety While Hiking, Camping & Boating. May 2011. Web Accessed: 6 Apr. 2015.

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