Remember food safety during Fourth of July celebrations

Stephanie Smith

Given the heat we have had this week, and the coming Fourth of July holiday, it is a good time to review food safety tips for the summer months.

Foodborne illness tends to peak during the summer months because of warmer temperatures. Lack of refrigeration and inadequate cooking are major contributors of foodborne illness, in addition to cross-contamination of foods and improper handwashing. The following tips will help ensure your holiday celebrations don’t result in a foodborne illness outbreak.

Preparing food

Promptly refrigerate meat, poultry and other perishable foods after shopping. Freeze any meat, seafood and poultry that will not be used within the next 48 hours.

When keeping meat, seafood, and poultry in the refrigerator, make sure your refrigerator is operating at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, and store the meat in a pan with sides on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator to keep drippings from contaminating other food.

Never defrost meat or other perishable foods on the counter. Food should be defrosted in the refrigerator, in the microwave or in sealed packages under cold water. Food defrosted in the microwave will need to be cooked immediately.

Always marinate meat in the refrigerator and never on the counter. Be sure to discard marinades after they have been in contact with raw meat.

Keep food cold

Always keep meat, poultry, and seafood in a separate cooler filled with ice and away from ready-to-eat foods such as condiments, produce and salads. Keep coolers in the shade and ensure they are filled with plenty of ice to keep food cold.

Never leave meat, seafood, poultry or other perishable foods like salads at temperatures between 40-140 degrees for longer than two hours at a time, or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees. Make sure foods are kept on ice if they will be out in the elements for longer.

Keep things clean

Wash hands thoroughly, before and after handling food, with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.

Do not use cutting boards, knives, dishes or utensils on ready to eat foods after being in contact with raw meat unless they have been thoroughly washed in hot soapy water first. Do not use the same utensils and dishes for handling both raw and cooked meat unless you have washed them thoroughly in-between uses.


Always check for doneness by using a food thermometer, as this is the only way to know if the meat is cooked enough to kill bacteria. You should check the internal temperature of the food by inserting the thermometer into the thickest part of the food, and in several different spots. Meat color is not an indicator of doneness as meat can often change color well before it has reached the proper internal temperature required for safety.

145 degrees – whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal (must have a resting time of 3 minutes at this temperature) and seafood.

160 degrees – hamburgers and other ground meat

165 degrees – all poultry and pre-cooked meats (e.g. hot dogs)

Keep meat above 140 degrees until served. Cooked meat, poultry, seafood, and other foods that are kept at temperatures between 40-140 degrees for longer than two hours (or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees) must be thrown away.

Keep food covered

Shigella is a bacterial pathogen that can cause diarrhea, fever, and stomach pain, and this pathogen can be transmitted by flies. Be sure to keep your food covered to prevent flies from landing on your food.

For more summer food safety tips, visit the CDC’s website at Have a happy and safe Fourth of July.

Smith is an assistant professor and statewide consumer food specialist for Washington State University. She can be reached at If you have a food safety question you would like to see appear in this column, send your question to us at

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