Your definitive guide to safe summer food

Summer is the perfect chance to enjoy picnics and barbecues with family and friends, so we have put together some advice to help ensure you don’t become unwell when enjoying eating outdoors. The key actions to remember this summer fit into four easy-to-remember categories.

family having picnic in a park

Summer is the perfect chance to enjoy picnics and barbecues with family and friends, so we have put together some advice to help ensure you don’t become unwell when enjoying eating outdoors. The key actions to remember this summer fit into four easy-to-remember categories.


Chilling and defrosting

fridge and cool box

Chilling food properly helps stop harmful bacteria from growing, especially in the warm summer months. Make sure you do the following things to keep your food safe:

1. Do not defrost foods at room temperature. Ideally food should be defrosted fully in the fridge or if this is not possible, using a microwave on the defrost setting directly before cooking.

2. Cool cooked foods quickly at room temperature and then place in the fridge within one to two hours.

3. Store raw foods separately from ready-to-eat foods, covered on the bottom shelf of your fridge.

4. Keep chilled food out of the fridge for the shortest time possible during preparation.

5. Any food with a ‘use by’ date, cooked dishes, salads and desserts all need to be kept chilled and out of the sun until serving time.

6. At barbecues and picnics, cold perishable food should be kept in the fridge or a cool box until serving time.

7. Check regularly that your fridge is cold enough - the coldest part should be below 5°C.

8. Don’t overfill your fridge. This allows air to circulate and maintains the set temperature.

Some foods need to be kept in the fridge to help slow down germs' growth and keep food fresh and safe for longer. Generally, the colder the temperature the slower germs will grow, but cold temperatures don’t stop germs growing altogether. Use a fridge thermometer to check the temperature is below 5°C as your fridge’s dials are not usually an indication of the temperature.

Cooking

oven and barbecue

Cooking food at the right temperature and for the correct length of time will ensure that any harmful bacteria are killed. Remember that:

1. When cooking minced meat products such as beef burgers, sausages and kebabs and pork, turkey and chicken, always check that:

  • the meat is steaming hot throughout
  • there is no pink meat visible when you cut into the thickest part
  • meat juices run clear

2. Burgers prepared at home should always be cooked all the way through until steaming hot. They should not be served rare or pink because harmful bacteria may be present in the middle of the burger, causing food poisoning.

3. Once served, dishes should not sit out for longer than two hours, or one hour if it’s very hot outside.

Cleaning

hands under the tap

Effective cleaning gets rid of bacteria on hands, equipment and surfaces, helping to stop harmful bacteria from spreading onto food. These three tips will help keep germs at bay:

1. Hands: Wash hands before cooking and eating where possible. If you’re at a picnic and it’s not possible to wash your hands, use a wet wipe to clean your hands, then use a sanitiser on top to sterilise them.

2. Dish cloths: Wash or change dish cloths, tea towels, sponges and oven gloves regularly and let them dry before you use them again. Dirty, damp cloths are the perfect place for bacteria to breed.

3. Utensils and serving dishes: Take care to keep all utensils and platters clean when preparing food and ensure you don’t mix those used to prepare raw and ready-to-eat dishes.

4. Cook it, don’t wash it: Don’t wash raw chicken or any other meat; it just splashes germs onto your hands, clothes, utensils and worktops. Thorough cooking will kill any bacteria present.

Avoiding cross-contamination

oven and barbecue

Cross-contamination is most likely to happen when raw food touches (or drips onto) ready-to-eat food, utensils or surfaces. Prevent it by following these three tips:

1. Store raw meat separately from ready-to-eat foods.

2. Use different utensils, plates and chopping boards for raw and cooked food.

3. Wash your hands after touching raw meat and before you handle ready-to-eat food.

Facts about summer food bugs

Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK. You can’t see, smell or even taste it, but it can lead to people being very ill indeed with abdominal pain, diarrhoea, headache and fever. It can even lead to permanent disability. It is usually found in poultry, meat, dairy products, unpasteurised milk and shellfish and can be spread by cross-contamination, contaminated water or infected animals and their food.

Salmonella is another common bug found in raw meat, undercooked poultry, eggs and unpasteurised milk. Most commonly spread by inadequate cooking and cross-contamination, it leads to diarrhoea, fever, vomiting and stomach pains and it can make you ill for up to three weeks.

Listeria (L. monocytogenes) is less common than Campylobacter and Salmonella but it has a high hospitalisation and mortality rate. Individuals with an increased risk of listeriosis include those over 65 years of age, very young children and babies less than one month old. Listeria is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn babies. Listeria causes flu-like symptoms and it is most commonly associated with ready-to-eat foods. Special care should be taken with soft cheeses, smoked fish, meat pates and pre-packed sandwiches.

E. coli is often passed on through raw and undercooked meats, but can also be spread through other contaminated foods, such as vegetables and salads, water or unpasteurised milk and from person to person. Symptoms can include diarrhoea (about 50% of people infected have bloody diarrhoea), stomach cramps and vomiting and the illness usually lasts between one and five days, although symptoms can persist for up to two weeks. Infection can be more serious in children, particularly those aged 1 to 4 years, when in rarer cases it can lead to haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a serious condition affecting the kidneys.