Who doesn’t love summer’s outdoor feasts? Maybe you, if a case of food poisoning strikes. Here’s how to avoid some common hot-weather pitfalls, especially if you’re at high risk—you’re over 65 or under 5, pregnant, or have a weakened immune system.

How to prevent food poisoning at picnics & parties

picnic food
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  • Stay cool. Don’t leave perishable foods unrefrigerated (or out of a cooler) for more than two hours...or one hour if it’s above 90°F.
  • All prepared foods matter. Heard that only mayo-based salads are at risk if they sit out too long? That’s a myth. It’s also salads of all kinds, cut fruit, cheese, meat, leftovers, etc.
  • Rinse, then cut. Before cutting, rinse fruits and vegetables under running water, even if you don’t plan to eat their peel or rind (like melons). Why? A knife can transfer pathogens from rind to flesh. Use a produce brush to scrub melon, avocado, and other firm fruits or vegetables.
  • Cook that seafood. Raw oysters or other shellfish can harbor Vibrio, which typically causes diarrhea and vomiting. Though rare, severe infections can be deadly. Having a seafood boil? Throw out shellfish like clams or mussels that don’t open during cooking.

How to prevent food poisoning when grilling

vegetables on a grill
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  • Thaw and marinate meat in the fridge. As you grill, don’t brush with used marinade, which has been contaminated by the raw meat.
  • Start fresh. Don’t serve grilled meat on the plate you used when it was raw.
  • Does that look done? Who can tell! Use an instant-read thermometer to make sure the thickest parts reach:
          —165°  F for chicken & turkey (ground or parts)
          —160°  F for ground beef, pork, & lamb (including burgers)
          —145°  F for beef, pork, & lamb steaks and chops (then let them rest for at least 3 minutes)
          —145°  F for fish (or until the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork)

How to prevent food poisoning when shopping at farmers markets, etc.

woman at a farmers market
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  • Separate. Bring one reusable bag for meat, poultry, and eggs and another for produce or other foods. (Wash your bags often—ideally, after each use.) Pack perishables in an insulated cooler bag.
  • Make sure milk, juice, or cider is pasteurized. The process kills harmful germs like Campylobacter and E. coli that can contaminate raw milk or unpasteurized juice or cider.
  • Do a cold check. Only buy meat, eggs, and prepared foods that were kept in closed coolers with ice.
  • Can it? For recipes and food-safety advice, see the USDA's Complete Guide to Home Canning.

How to prevent food poisoning while camping & backpacking

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  • Don’t drink untreated water from rivers, etc. Ditto for washing hands or dishes. If you can’t bring enough water with you, boil it for at least 1 minute, then let cool. Most water treatment methods remove or kill bacteria. What about viruses or parasites? Check the CDC's advice.
  • Pack your cooler safely. That means plenty of ice. And double-bag raw meat in zipper bags so it won’t leak.
  • Hand washing with soap beats sanitizer. That’s especially true if your hands are visibly dirty. In a pinch, alcohol-based hand sanitizers fight most germs, but they’re not a good bet for bugs like Cryptosporidium or norovirus.
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