Game day and the grill’s going and your friends are gathered ’round. You’re ready to put the chicken on the grill. And you realize the cooler’s open and sitting in the full sun. Is the chicken safe to serve?
Vicky Cora, Scott & White GI Nutrition Support Dietitian, offers tips for storing, preparing and serving food outdoors.
“The danger zone for food storage is 40 to 140 degrees,” says Ms. Cora. “Bacteria in foods tend to survive and multiply in that danger zone of 40 to 140 degrees. Chicken in particular is more susceptible to food-borne illness. You need to keep cold foods below 40 degrees and hot foods above 140,” Ms. Cora advises.
“It’s important for people to keep hot food hot and cold food cold—that’s not only for uncooked items but for cooked foods as well,” Ms. Cora says.
To keep food safe, “keep cold foods on ice and keep coolers shut tight, whether it’s a lid or a zipper, and place the coolers in the shade,” Ms. Cora recommends. “Also, the less frequently you open the cooler the better,” Ms. Cora says. “The more the cold stays in, the safer it is for the food.”
Another magic rule to barbecue and tailgate by, Ms. Cora suggests, is the Two-Hour Rule: Don’t leave food out for more than two hours. If you’ve had food sitting out for two hours, throw it away. Don’t pack it up and save it. The bacteria have already had a chance to grow and you risk food-borne illness. Ms. Cora suggests being safe and just tossing the food out.
She further suggests avoiding mayonnaise- and dairy-based foods, as they are more prone to spoiling quickly and causing food-borne illness. If you do serve potato salad or cole slaw, Ms. Cora suggests keeping them on ice until right before you serve them, placing the bowls in a tray of ice when serving them, and packing them up immediately after they’ve been served.
At a tailgate party or barbecue, Ms. Cora says it’s safest to bring foods that are less likely to spoil. Cold cuts for sandwiches are cured so they don’t spoil as easily; canned goods and precooked meats are good options, too.
If you do bring raw meat to grill, Ms. Cora suggests you keep it stored tightly in a cooler on ice and take it out only when you are ready to grill it. Don’t set it out to marinate on a picnic table or the top of a cooler. Moreover, Ms. Cora recommends you take along a meat thermometer to be certain the meat is cooked thoroughly. Chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees and red meat to 160.
The most important thing of all, Ms. Cora stresses, is to wash your hands well. Under warm water, use soap, lather up, and dry with paper towels. If you’re tailgating in a football parking lot, and you don’t have access to running water, she recommends using a hand sanitizer. Ms. Cora says to “rub it until it’s dry, but don’t put hand sanitizer on wet hands, because some research shows that water deactivates its efficacy.”
So when barbecuing and tailgating, remember to keep the cold foods chilled down and the hot foods heated up—and to chuck the chicken if it’s in the danger zone.