Warm weather means take care to keep food safe

When the weather turns warm and sunny, as it is now, the tendency seems to be to grill, picnic or otherwise dine outdoors — hopefully in a place of shade and with a cool breeze at hand — while taking full advantage of such conditions to camp, boat or enjoy other activities.

To avoid having a bad ending to a great outing outdoors, make sure those foods taken along for the outing are kept safely cool, separated and sealed against possible contaminants.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 6 Americans, or 48 million people, suffer from foodborne illness each year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.

The “Danger Zone” is the temperature range between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit that can allow foodborne bacteria to grow rapidly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

USDA food safety expects recommend the following ways to avoid that risk:

— Perishables should not be left out more than two hours if the temperature is at or below 90 degrees and only one hour if the temperature is at or above 90 degrees. Food should be returned to the cooler within an hour. If you’re not sure how long food has been sitting out, throw it out.

— Always keep cold food cold — at or below 40 degrees, in coolers or in containers with a cold source such as ice or frozen gel packs.

— Keep hot food hot — at or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, on the grill or in insulated containers, heated chafing dishes, warming trays or slow cookers. If food needs to be reheated, reheat it to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

— Pack an appliance thermometer in your cooler to ensure food stays at or below 40 degrees. Divide large amounts of food into shallow containers for fast chilling and easier use.

— Packing drinks in a separate cooler is strongly recommended so the food cooler isn’t opened frequently. Keep the cooler in the shade, and try to cover it with a blanket or tarp to keep it cool. Replenish the ice if it melts.

— Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat, poultry and seafood. Use the USDA’s “Is It Done Yet?” guide to learn where to place the thermometer in each item.

— If you plan to marinate meat or poultry for several hours or overnight before the event, make sure to marinate them in the refrigerator — not on the counter. If you plan to reuse the marinade from raw meat or poultry, make sure to boil it first to destroy any harmful bacteria.

— To ensure safety, leftovers should be put in shallow containers for quick cooling and be refrigerated to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below within two hours.

For easy, accessible answers to other food storage questions, download the USDA’s FoodKeeper application. It offers guidance on the safe storage of more than 400 food and beverage items.