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story.lead_photo.caption In this Wednesday, July 4, 2012 file photo, Chris Andreski grills hamburgers and hot dogs in Arlington, Va. Photo by Associated Press / News Tribune.
Lynn Eaton

Who doesn't love a summertime picnic? One thing that is extra important during this time of brats, burgers, potato salad and the never-ending heat is food safety.

Here are a few tips to keep you healthy and hearty this summer:

Use a food thermometer to check that food is cooked to the proper temperature. Food thermometers are inexpensive and the best way to tell that food is cooked fully. Cooking food to the proper temperature kills bacteria and other germs that can cause foodborne illness. To use a food thermometer, turn it on (if it's electronic) and insert the temperature probe into the thickest part of the meat or a large chunk of food (e.g., potato). The temperature should read at or above the temperatures listed below.

Here is a list of temperatures for different meats:

  • Beef, pork, veal, and lamb (whole cuts, such as steaks, chops, roasts, and uncooked hams): 145F and allow to rest for at least three minutes.
  • Ground meats: 160F.
  • Fully cooked ham: Reheat cooked hams packaged in USDA-inspected plants to 140F and all others to 165F.
  • All poultry (breasts, whole bird, legs, thighs, wings, ground poultry, giblets and stuffing): 165F.
  • Eggs: 160F.
  • Fish and shellfish: 145F.
  • Leftovers and casseroles: 165F.

Clean hands, knives and cutting surfaces between different foods and ingredients. It is easy to transfer bacteria, germs and potential allergens between foods without knowing it. This can cause you or someone else to get sick. Cleaning your hands, knives and surfaces between times helps prevent the spread of germs. Wash hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Clean knives and cutting surfaces with warm soapy water and allow to air dry when possible. The dishwasher is a great way to clean cutting boards and knives, though you should always check your cutting boards and knives for dishwasher safety first!

Keep raw meats and unprepared foods separate from foods that are ready to eat. Make sure raw meat is in a sealed container in the bottom of your refrigerator. Keep fruits, vegetables, and ready-to-eat foods above raw meats in your refrigerator. This helps avoid leaks where raw chicken or meat juices drip onto fruits, vegetables, and prepared foods, which can cause you to get sick.

Refrigerate foods promptly after cooking. The temperature danger zone for foods, which is the temperature range at which bacteria grows best, is 40-140F. One way to help keep foods out of this zone is to refrigerate foods promptly after cooking. If you must take a cold food, such as potato salad, to a picnic, bring a cold pack or ice in a cooler or dish that you can set the item in to help keep it cold. Refrigerate the food as soon as you can. If it has been out at room temperature for more than two hours, toss it. It's not worth the risk of getting sick.

Now that you know the basics, go out there and enjoy some safe summer eats.

To learn more about food safety, visit the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service websites:

Lynn Eaton R.D., L.D., CDE is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. She works at Capital Region Medical Center as an inpatient, outpatient, and critical care dietitian.