Food Safety for the Memorial Day Holiday

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We’re coming up on the first big holiday weekend of the summer. 

Time to clean up that grill and outdoor table to enjoy a cookout to start summer off right! 

Food being grilled on a clean grill.

It’s probably also time to brush-up on some of those summer food safety tips. The basic thing to remember is the “two-hour rule” which says food should not be allowed to sit outside the refrigerator for more than two hours. Room temperatures (between 40- and 135-degrees F) are just right for allowing bacteria in food to multiply to numbers that could make people sick. Any potentially-hazardous foods (dairy, meat, fish, cooked vegetables, rice, or chopped/sliced fruits and vegetables) that have sat out at room temperature for more than two hours should not be eaten. This “two-hour rule” changes to the “one hour rule” when temperatures creep up above 90 degrees F. 

Cooking and eating outdoors bring different problems and situations into the picture that perhaps you don’t think about the rest of the year. Here’s a quick quiz to test your knowledge. 

Are the following questions true or false?

  1. It’s safe to eat hot dogs that have been stored unopened in the refrigerator for up to ten days.
  2. Since it’s already been cooked, it’s OK to leave fried chicken set out all afternoon at the family picnic.
  3. Adding mayonnaise to food increases the risk of food poisoning.
  4. You can tell when hamburgers cooked on the grill are done because of the brown color.
  5. Because it’s in a cooler, it’s safe to leave food in a sunny location for over 5 hours.

Are you ready for the answers? Here they are!

  1. TRUE. Check the expiration date on those hot dogs. Hot dogs should be used or frozen within three days of the sell-by or use-by date on the package. An unopened package of hot dogs can stay safely in your refrigerator until the expiration date (or two weeks if there is no date). An opened package of hot dogs should be eaten within a week of opening. Never eat hot dogs that have a cloudy liquid in the bag.
  2. FALSE. Remember the “two-hour rule” for cooked items such as fried chicken, plates of burgers and hot dogs. Just because a something has been cooked does not make it immune to bacterial growth. Start that two-hour clock when the food comes out of the frier or off the grill.
  3. FALSE. Unless you are making homemade mayonnaise, it is not the “bad guy” when it comes to food safety. Commercially prepared mayonnaise products have acids (such as lemon juice and vinegar) as an ingredient. An acidic product slows pathogen growth. Saying this, don’t throw “caution to the wind” when using mayo. The problem is usually with what you’ve mixed with the mayo—such as eggs, meat, chopped/cooked vegetables, fish and/or cooked pasta. All of these foods are considered “potentially hazardous” and care should be taken. Be sure to follow the “two-hour rule.” 
  4. FALSE. Use a food thermometer! Color is not a good indicator of doneness. I’ve seen pink burgers that were over 160 degrees and I’ve seen brown burgers that weren’t close to that temperature. Don’t guess. Checking the internal temperature is the only way to ensure your food is fully cooked. Safe internal cooking temperatures: Poultry (ground or whole) should be cooked to 165 degrees F, Ground meat/hamburgers is 160 degrees F and whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, veal or fish (whole cuts such as steaks or fillets) should be 145 degrees. Commercially processed, fully cooked food such as hot dog should be cooked to 135 degrees F.
  5. FALSE. When everyone is done eating, get that food quickly into coolers or a refrigerator. When storing in coolers use lots of ice. It’s hard to keep the temperature of food in coolers below 40 degrees. Five hours may be too long to ensure that food is safe. In that case, don’t eat or save those leftovers! It may seem a waste to throw out half a bowl of potato salad or sliced fruit, but there may be several problems with it in addition to the uncertain temperatures (i.e. bugs, lots of people around — did they double dip?). Unless you are absolutely sure of the safety of the food, pitch any leftovers.

Have a happy and food safe holiday weekend.

Source and Food and Health Communications

Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center 910-253-2610 or by email at