Summertime in Australia is often associated with enjoyable outdoor gatherings such as barbecues and picnics. However, it’s also a period commonly associated with foodborne illnesses, as bacteria enjoy the warm weather just as much as we do. Regardless of whether you’re preparing food indoors or outdoors, proper procedures must be practised in the interest of food safety.

Here are some tips on how to keep you and your guests safe as the warmer season approaches:

Be mindful of food temperature

A decent quality thermometer is an excellent tool for ensuring that cooked items are heated and maintained at the correct temperature to deter potentially harmful bacteria from making you and your guests ill. Simply checking the colour of cooked foods (particularly meats and fish) isn’t a reliable way of ascertaining that food is safe to eat.

Keep deli meats, seafood, dairy, and other perishable items chilled where possible. Ice, ice packs, and cooler bins are ideal for this purpose.

Watch your leftovers

Perishable items, such as raw or cooked meat, in particular, should not sit at room temperature in excess of 2 hours. During summer, when the temperature is at or over 32 degrees Celcius, this window is reduced to only 1 hour. Any food that has not been refrigerated within this time frame must be disposed of.

Don’t re-use marinades

Meat and poultry cooked on the barbecue during summer are often marinated first. However, care must be taken to ensure that your marinades don’t become breeding grounds for bacteria. All unused marinade must be disposed of to prevent raw meat juices from contaminating cooked foods. If you wish to use a portion of the marinade as a sauce for your meat once it’s cooked, save some before the meat is marinated in it.

Keep raw and cooked food separate

If, for example, you’re preparing to cook meat on the barbecue, uncooked items should be kept on their own tray or plate with a separate, clean tray or plate reserved for items as they come off the grill. Use separate tongs and other utensils for cooked and uncooked items.

Keep things clean

Wash your hands thoroughly, especially after handling high protein foods like meat, fish, and poultry. It’s also a good idea to store uneaten food in clean containers before taking them home or storing them.

Thoroughly wash any fruit or vegetables that are to be served raw and clean any outdoor communal eating areas before serving food. Antiseptic wipes, sprays, and cleansers are the best tools for the job.

Dining outdoors during summer also opens up your food items to attention from bugs, birds, and other creatures. Keep an eye on your spread, and cover dishes and serving platters if food is to be left unattended even for a short time.

Pack safely

When transporting food to a picnic or barbecue venue, care should be exercised to ensure that food travels safely. Raw meats should be packed in their own containers in an insulated environment such as a cooler. Be mindful of where you place meat items whether cooked or uncooked. Select the coolest part of the vehicle, avoiding the heat of the boot or other areas where air conditioning may not reach.

Also, be careful when you shop for groceries, keeping the summer heat in mind. Use an insulated cooler bag for transporting perishable items back from the shops safely. Be quick to refrigerate meats and other items as soon as you return home.

Defrost meats correctly

Never leave frozen meats out to defrost on a countertop or outside in the heat, allowing dangerous bacteria to multiply. Plan things out ahead of time, for example, defrosting meats in advance in the refrigerator.

Wash reusable bags and containers

Bags and containers in which food is transported can potentially harbour harmful pathogens. Wash tote bags regularly to ensure that your food doesn’t pick up unwanted guests en route to your chosen venue. Keep all food storage containers (including coolers and eskies) scrupulously clean.

Be COVID safe

Even as COVID restrictions ease, always be on alert for potential issues. If you or anyone in your party exhibits symptoms such as fever, runny nose, or a cough, strongly consider postponing or cancelling your event pending the results of a COVID test.

If you’re considering entering the food industry and wish to learn more about food safety, The Australian Institute of Accreditation can supply you with the right certification. Peruse our food handling and safety courses today, or get in touch with us to find out more.