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10 essential food safety tips for outdoor cooking

Friends eating outside, toasting

Outdoor cooking and eating require specific food safety rules to avoid food poisoning or spoiling your creations.  Follow HFG’s tips for safe outdoor entertaining this season

Outdoor picnics and beach barbecues are part and parcel of any summer. But as the mercury rises, so too does the number of food poisoning cases. That’s because the warmer weather provides an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. In fact, for every one degree warmer, the rate of food poisoning increases. It’s far from doom and gloom, however — there’s plenty you can do to reduce or eliminate your risk.

1 Wash your hands

Before handling food, make sure your hands are squeaky clean. Wash them with warm water and soap if available, or at least a hand sanitiser. Remember to re-wash your hands after handling raw meats.

2 Use your chiller

Transport perishable foods, such as salad, dips and cheese in a chilly bin filled with ice and cooler packs. Place raw meat in sealed containers at the bottom of the esky, so their juices are separated from other foods.

3 Cool food first

Avoid packing warm food in the chilly bin. If you’re taking cooked food for a picnic or barbecue, cook it the day before — and chill it in the fridge overnight.

4 Don’t cross paths

Prepare raw foods, like steak and chicken, with separate utensils and chopping boards from those you use to make ready-to-eat foods like salads or desserts. Use a separate clean tray to serve cooked meat like sausages and steak — not the tray the raw meat was prepared on.

5 Cook like a pro

Ensure frozen meat is completely defrosted before you put it on the barbecue. When cooking, turn the meat regularly and move it around the hot plate to make sure it cooks evenly. Steak can be pink in the middle as long as the outside is seared. Keep cooked meat hot by setting it to the side of the barbecue.

6 Check the temperature

Cook sausages and burger patties all the way through, with no visible pink in the middle. If you’ve got a food thermometer, your target temperature is 75°C in the centre.

7 Keep cold food cold

Store cold foods below 5°C. Keep the lid of your esky closed, opening it as few times as possible.

8… and hot food hot

Keep hot foods above 60°C. Food is in the ‘temperature danger zone’ when it’s between 5–60°C, meaning bacteria can very quickly multiply and become dangerous.

9 Watch the clock

Two hours is the maximum timeframe food can be left out of the fridge if you plan to take it home to eat another time. If you don’t intend to take it home, four hours is your goal with perishables.

10 Safe handling of leftovers

Take leftover food home quickly in insulated containers. You should place hot food in the refrigerator as soon as the steam stops rising. Don’t leave seafood in the temperature danger zone for any longer than necessary.

Common food poisoning culprits

Some foods are more likely than others to cause food poisoning. The key culprits are:

Poultry… like chicken and turkey. Ensure these foods are completely cooked all the way through, and thoroughly wash anything that comes into contact with them when they’re raw.

Eggs… particularly raw eggs, are high-risk. Before cooking, check the shells are clean and crack-free. Be mindful that mayonnaise, and cake or cookie batter often contain raw egg.

Fresh produce… especially leafy greens and vegetables. Before eating, wash these foods thoroughly.

Soft cheeses… such as camembert, brie and ricotta. Make sure these foods are stored at less than 5°C, and always use clean utensils when handling them.

Deli meats… such as ham and salami. As these meats are not cooked before you eat them, it’s important to store them below 5°C.

Food for thought

Food poisoning can affect anyone, but some people are more susceptible than others. Be especially careful when catering for pregnant women, young children and the elderly.

First published: Jan 2020