There’s nothing quite like summertime cookouts, picnics, aand potlucks, with the inviting aroma of charcoal-grilled steaks, the laughter of children, aand spirited conversation. We all know summer parties just aren’t complete without a little good food – make that a lot of good food. Unfortunately, there are more cases of food poisoning in the summer than in any other season, so during warmer weather it is especially crucial to practice safe haandling of perishable foods like meat, poultry, seafood aand egg products.

Take care to keep food cold during transport. The temperature inside your cooler should be below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. A full cooler will maintain cold temperatures much longer than one that is only partially filled, so be sure to pack plenty of ice or freezer packs to maintain a consistent cold temperature. Keep raw meat, poultry, aand seafood separate from other foods to prevent bacterial contamination, aand use containers or resealable plastic bags to prevent leaks. Raw meat, poultry, aand seafood should be placed at the bottom of the cooler to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods. To keep foods cold as long as possible, use a separate cooler for your drinks. The beverage cooler will be opened much more frequently, while the food cooler stays cold.

Since bacteria are killed by heat, raw meat, poultry, aand seafood must be cooked to a safe internal temperature. When grilling, preheat coals for 30 minutes, or until they are lightly coated with ash. If using a starter fluid, use only charcoal starter fluid. If the fire is too low, rekindle it with dry kindling aand more charcoal if necessary. Never pour additional starter fluid onto hot coals – it can cause a fire or explosion.

Color is never a reliable indicator of doneness, as grilled meat aand poultry brown quickly, well before reaching a safe minimum internal temperature. Use a food thermometer to verify safe temperatures. Poultry should be cooked to 165 degrees, aand ground beef hamburgers need to reach 160 degrees. Pork, beef steaks or roasts, veal, lamb steaks, fish, aand most other roasts aand chops should be cooked to 145 degrees. Fish should be opaque aand flake easily.

When removing foods from your grill, don’t put cooked foods back on the same plate that previously held raw food, unless it has been washed with hot, soapy water first.

On hot summer days, don’t keep food at room temperature for over an hour. Keep cooked meats on a heated grill rack, in a chafing dish or slow cooker, or in an oven set to 200 degrees.

When you’re finished with the grill, dispose of coals by soaking them in water to cool them completely, then place them in a closed metal container.

Cookouts aand picnics are time-honored summer traditions – a time for friends aand family to gather, socialize, aand have fun. Be certain everyone has a great time this summer by observing safe food haandling aand preparation techniques.