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OSU Extension

College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences

May 29, 2024 - 9:00am --

The early spring weather has allowed us to enjoy several meals being prepared or served outdoors.  I really look forward to this time as it seems food always tastes better when cooked on the grill. Whether you are looking forward to family reunions, picnics or just grilling on the patio, there are several things to keep in mind so that everyone enjoys the food, and it stays safe. 

Here is a summary from U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep in mind as we know that foodborne illness rates increase during the summer.

Germs are everywhere, in the air, soil, and water, and they grow faster during the summer because it’s warmer and more humid.  Likewise, we seem to spend more time outside during the summer with activities and when we prepare food outside generally, we may not have access to hot water and clean cooking or preparation surfaces.  With these two combinations, people may become ill and claim they have a “24-hour bug” when really, it could have been the food that caused the symptoms.

Follow the two-hour rule

To minimize the growth of germs, we follow a two-hour rule.  Keeping foods either hot (above 140 degrees) or cold (below 40 degrees) helps to keep the food safe so that we minimize the opportunity for foodborne illnesses.  The fact we fail to remember is that this two-hour rule is cumulative, so it starts when you take it out of the refrigerated case at the grocery store, your travel home, and then travel to the cooking site.  Then if the food sits out after being cooked, the risk continues to increase. 

Here are some tips to remember when packing your cooler to maximize keeping the foods cold.

• Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water before packing them in the cooler - including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Rub firm-skinned fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water. Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth towel or paper towel. Packaged fruits and vegetables that are labeled "ready-to-eat," "washed," or "triple washed" need not be washed.

• Place cold food in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. Coolers do not cool cooked food, make sure food is thoroughly chilled before placing it in a cooler. Meat, poultry, and seafood may be packed while still frozen so that they stay colder longer. Keep the cooler at 40 degrees or below and if you are staying for more than one meal, pack another cooler with food for that meal.

• Organize cooler contents. Consider packing beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another, so that frequent opening of the beverage cooler won’t expose the perishable foods to warm outdoor air temperatures. Carry coolers in the passenger compartment of your car, not in the trunk where it’s much warmer.  When reaching your destination, place the cooler in the shade and open it as little as possible. 

Cooking outdoor guidelines

Once you have the food packed and ready to go, remember that following safe guidelines in cooking outdoors is essential.

• Once served, cold food should not sit out for longer than two hours, OR, one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees. If it does - throw it away.  Best practice is to place food on ice to keep food cold, then store immediately after serving.  If there’s a large gathering, like a family reunion, consider a child’s swimming pool or large tub with ice in it to keep everyone’s food safe.

• Hot food should be kept hot at or above 140 degrees. Wrap it well and place it in an insulated container until serving. With all food, if it sets out and becomes “room temperature” for more than two hours, be safe and discard it.

• Don't reuse platters or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood because bacteria from the raw food’s juices can spread to the cooked food. Have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill side to serve your food.  

• Don’t cross-contaminate. It’s best to have a separate cooler for raw meat, poultry, and seafood, but if you don’t, make sure they are securely wrapped. This keeps their juices from contaminating already prepared foods or foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables.

• Hand cleaning is key to food safety— including outdoor settings. If you don’t have access to running water, simply use a water jug, some soap, and paper towels. Or consider using moist disposable towelettes for cleaning your hands.

Summertime is a fun time to cook outside and in an effort to keep everyone safe, I hope these reminders help us all to celebrate the season.

Melinda Hill is an OSU Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Educator and may be reached at 330-264-8722 or
This article was previously published in The Daily Record.