Summer is here and that means many of us will be taking our meals outside. Backyard barbecues, picnics in the park, and spreads of food at the community pool all mean that foods will be exposed to warm outdoor temperatures.

Precautions need to be taken to ensure food remains safe and no one gets sick from a foodborne illness. Here are tips offered by the FDA and the USDA for some of the most common outdoor summer foods.

Cold foods like mayonnaise based salads, deviled eggs and dairy

Cold foods like deviled eggs, potato and pasta salads, dips and cheese are commonly served at backyard barbeques and outdoor picnics. Here are some tips for keeping foods safe that need refrigeration.

  • Keep the food at 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the refrigerator or in a cooler until ready to serve.
  • Once out of the refrigerator or cooler, food should not sit at room temperature for longer than two hours. If the temperature is above 90 degrees, it should not sit out for longer than an hour. Any food that sits out past these recommended times should be thrown out.
  • To help keep foods cold, serving dishes can be placed directly on ice. Drain off water as the ice melts and add more ice frequently.

Hot foods like baked beans and macaroni and cheese

Side dishes that start out hot need to have their own set of tips for keeping safe.

  • Hot food should be kept at or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit until serving.
  • Once placed out, hot foods should not sit out or more than two hours or one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90 degrees. Any food that sits out past these recommended times should be thrown out.
  • To help keep foods hot, slow cookers with the lids kept on can be used, but be careful to keep extension cords away from where people can trip on them.

Meats that will be grilled

Burgers, hot dogs, chicken, ribs and other meats need to be kept safe from start to finish when eating outdoors.

  • If meats have been previously frozen, do not thaw them at room temperature. Plan ahead and give them time to thaw in the refrigerator.
  • Keep raw meets covered and away from other foods until they go on the grill so they do not contaminate anything else.
  • Never use the same serving plate that held raw meat to serve cooked meat unless it has been thoroughly washed first.
  • Cook all meat thoroughly and use a thermometer to make sure they’re cooked to the proper temperature. The FDA advises that steaks, roasts, fish and pork should be cooked to 145 degrees, ground beef should be cooked to 160 degrees, and chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees.
  • Once served, follow the above tips for hot foods.

sliced melon with ice on a wooden tableKeep fruit cool and appetizing for outdoor picnics by serving it on ice. (Photo: Oxana Denezhkina/Shutterstock)

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Plates of lettuce, sliced tomato and onion for burger toppings and bowls of fresh, sliced melons aren’t as dangerous to leave out as some other common backyard barbeque foods, but there are still some precautions to take with them.

  • Clean produce before the party. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under water to clean off dirt and contaminants.
  • Rub firm-skinned fruits and vegetables under running tap water and scrub them with a vegetable brush. Dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.
  • Place bowls and platters of fresh fruits and vegetables over ice to keep them from wilting and losing their appeal.

Cooler tips

If you’re keeping food and beverages in coolers to keep them cold, here are a few tips.

  • Coolers full of ice should be kept closed unless you’re removing something from them so the foods and beverages inside will stay cold longer.
  • Use separate coolers for beverages and foods because the beverage cooler will probably be opened more frequently.
  • Full coolers keep foods colder longer, so replenish ice and ice packs as needed, and drain any water from the bottom of the cooler as it builds up.

One last tip: If you end up with a cold cooler full of beer at the end of your celebration, it’s OK to allow the beer to come back to room temperature to store it. It’s a myth that temperature fluctuations will ruin beer.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

How to keep your picnic safe this summer
Outdoor parties are fun until someone gets food poisoning.