4. Keep cold food cold
Another common seasonal food-safety issue for both barbecues and picnics is keeping food unrefrigerated for a dangerously long time. “The two main problems of foodborne illness in the U.S.” says Williamson, “are not cooking food to a high-enough temperature, and leaving food out at an unsafe temperature.” Don’t leave any food items out for longer than two hours, she adds, and in very hot, 90-degree-plus temperatures, take it inside after an hour. Keep cold food—your potato salads and deviled eggs and whatnot—packed in a cooler that’s filled 75 percent with food and 25 percent with ice or frozen drinks or cold packs, to allow cold air to circulate freely. Cold food should be kept at 40°F or below.
5. Keep hot food hot
Food thermometers are perhaps the most underused tools available for grilling. “It’s hard to tell when things are done on a grill just by looking,” Williamson says. An overly blackened burger may still be raw on the inside, she adds, while thoroughly cooked meat from a smoker can still look pink because of the way smoke interacts with meat. “Using a food thermometer to test food to make sure it’s completely done is the best way to make sure you aren’t undercooking or overcooking your meat.” Your food will be tastier as well as safer.
Find more safety tips for barbecues and smoking meat at the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website.