Food Safety for July 4th

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Traditionally July 4th marks the middle of summer and we certainly have the hot weather to go with it. You know what I mean, it’s that hit-you-in-the-face and steam-up your glasses heat. This means that extra care needs to be taken to keep your food safe.

Food-related illnesses tend to increase during the summer months because the
microorganisms that cause these illnesses tend to grow faster in hot and humid
temperatures. Also, we’re just outside more often at cookouts, the beach or perhaps
camping trips where kitchens, refrigerators, thermometers and running water are not
always available.

The basic thing to remember is the “two-hour rule” which says food should not be
allowed to sit outside of refrigerator temperatures for more than two hours. Air
temperatures (between 41 degrees F and 130 degrees F) are just right for allowing
bacteria in food to multiply to numbers that could make people sick. Any potentially-
hazardous foods such as dairy, meat, fish, cooked vegetables, rice, or chopped/sliced
fruits and vegetables that have sat out in these temperatures 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 often. Here’s a quick quiz to test your knowledge.
Answer TRUE or FALSE?

  1.  Adding mayonnaise or salad dressing to food does NOT increase your risk of
    getting sick.
  2. You can tell when hamburgers that are cooked on the grill are done because of
    the brown color.
  3. Because it’s in a cooler it’s safe to leave food under the umbrella at the beach for over 5 hours.
  4. Since it’s already been cooked, it’s OK to leave fried chicken set out all afternoon at the family picnic.

Check your answers.

  1. TRUE. Despite what many people think, commercially prepared mayonnaise
    does NOT promote the development of foodborne illnesses. Commercial
    mayonnaise is high in acid and this acidity can help to keep the food safe. But,
    don’t use this as an excuse for not keeping these food items cold. Food safety
    problems are more likely caused by what you mix with the mayonnaise —such as tuna, chicken, potatoes, pasta, chopped and cooked vegetables and eggs. All of these foods are considered “potentially hazardous” and care should be taken. Be sure to follow the “two-hour rule.”
  2. FALSE. The only exact way to tell if a burger is done is by using a food
    thermometer. The color of the food is not a good guide. USDA research shows
    that one out of four hamburgers turn brown before it reaches the safe internal
    temperature of 160 degrees F. Using a food thermometer can also help prevent
    overcooking. 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.
  3. FALSE. When storing in coolers use lots of ice or ice packs. It’s hard to keep the temperature of food in coolers below 41 degrees. Five hours may be too long to ensure that food is safe. You may want a thermometer here to make sure it’s safe. Or better yet, come up with another plan for lunch or leftovers.
  4. 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.

Have a happy and food safe holiday weekend.

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