6 Summer Party Food Safety Tips To Keep Refrigerated Food Safe In The Heat

How To Keep Food Safe In The Heat

mayonnaise salad
Mayonnaise salads are high risk for food poisoning if left in the heat.

Revised July 30, 2020 – Originally published on July 13, 2020 Deborah Esplin

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This blog is about all the salads, side dishes, and other refrigerated foods that you have at your outdoor party and how to make sure they are safe outside in the heat. How long can you keep refrigerated foods outside in the heat and why? What foods are the most at risk to make you sick if they stay too long in the heat?

Food Poisoning is a Common Summer Problem

Food Poisoning rates increase in the summer. It is a common summer problem because we cook and eat outside in the heat.

In the previous blog post in this series,  Summer Party Outdoor Cooking Tips, Summer Party Outdoor Cooking Tips, I looked at how to cook your meat, fish and seafood to a safe internal temperature and the good practises you should follow.

How Long Can You Keep Refrigerated Foods In A Hot Environment

How long can you keep food in a hot environment? For many foods, there are limits on how long the food will remain safe to eat. Here are recommendations from the US and Canadian governments.

How Long Can You Keep Food in a Hot Environment Not on Ice

USA Recommendations
Air temperature 4 – 30 C / 40 – 90 F 2 hours
Air temperature over 30 C / 90 F 1 hour
Canada Recommendations
Food temperature between 4 – 60 C / 40 – 140 F 2 hours

The Danger Zone

This temperature above, where you should not keep refrigerated foods for more than 1 or 2 hours is called the Danger Zone: 4 – 60 C. Any food that requires refrigeration can have bacteria growth in these temperatures and can become unsafe to eat.

Colder than 4 C / 40 F, food is refrigerated. Warmer than 60 C / 140 F, food stays hot and bacteria will not grow.

How Fast Do Bacteria Grow?

Bacteria grow really fast in the danger zone. E. coli at the best temperature will double every 20 minutes. So look at this, you start with 1 and…

20 minutes later you have 2, 40 minutes later you have 4, In 1 hour you have 16

1 hour 20 minutes you have 256, 1 hour 40 minutes you have 65,536 and in 2 hours you have 4,294,967,296. That is definitely enough bacteria to make you sick.

That is why these tips are so important. In the heat, bacteria grows very quickly. Exponentially.

How to Keep Refrigerated Foods Safe Outdoors In the Heat

  1. Keep meat, fish, and seafood on the grill where they stay warm. See the minimum holding temperature for cooked foods above.
  2. Put all food in the shade.
  3. Cover the food to keep sunshine and bugs off the surface.
  4. Put uncooked foods like salads and sandwiches, hummus etc. on ice, especially risky foods.

If refrigerated foods will be out for more than two hours, for example at a long buffet, make ice baths to put your foods in.

ice cubes
Ice is good to keep food cold in the heat.

How To Make An Ice Bath

Take a bigger container and fill it with ice or ice packs. Your bigger container could be a bowl, a plastic tub, a pan, a tray. Anything that is large enough to hold the ice and the platter/bowl with the food. It is important that the food not sink into the ice or ice packs. So the platter/bowl needs to be stable in the ice bath.

Other Ways To Keep Food Cold

If you have a large cooler, fill it with ice and use that for your refrigerated side dishes. Or you can bring some of the food out from the fridge for one hour, keep it on ice, then put it in the fridge and rotate through the foods during the evening.

If you have a small refrigerator that you can bring to your party, that is great too.

Whatever you do, make sure to keep the refrigerated side dishes cold and at refrigeration temperature. Use your food thermometer to measure the temperature inside your side dishes. Make your food thermometer your friend. It is not just useful for meat but for any food that needs temperature control. I really like this digital thermometer because it is waterproof, has a long stem, and is not expensive. It’s available on Amazon here.

What Are the Riskiest Foods for Bacteria Growth?

  • Any foods with mayonnaise
  • Any foods with sour cream, cream, milk, whipped cream, or custard
  • Any foods with cold cuts or sandwich meats
  • Any foods with hard-boiled eggs, shrimp, fish, meat
  • Any raw meat, fish, seafood, or foods made with these items

Examples of risky foods:

    • Potato salad
    • Deviled eggs
    • Sushi & Shrimp rings
    • Sandwiches with meats, fish, egg and/or mayonnaise
    • Meat & fish salads
    • Guacamole & Hummus

This list includes most salads, sandwiches, and favourite side dishes at outdoor parties. All these foods should be kept in a cooler, in a fridge or on ice. See the paragraph above for how to treat these foods.

If in doubt, throw it out. Don’t risk a case of food poisoning.

Less Risky Summer Foods

What are some of the foods that are not risky to eat at your summer outdoor meal? There are a lot and these foods do not need to be kept refrigerated, in the cooler or on ice.

    • Fresh, washed crudités (the dip may need to be on ice)
    • Pasta, vegetable salads with olive oil (no eggs, meat, fish, or seafood)
    • Pickled vegetables & Roasted vegetables
    • Fresh washed fruits
    • Condiments & salsas
    • Snacks like chips, popcorn & nuts
    • Fruit bars & Crunchy cookies with no icing
    • Zucchini chips & roasted chickpeas

These foods are not at risk for food poisoning, but they are at risk for texture and taste changes. They can go soggy if it is humid, change colour if they are in the sun or go rancid. These foods should be covered as well when people are not serving themselves.

Tips On Serving Bowls, Plates And Glasses

If you are like me and you have a patio, then you have to worry about bare feet and pets if glass or ceramic breaks on this surface. Any brittle materials like that are hard to completely up and who doesn’t run around in bare feet in the summer.

That is why I have washable plastic serving plates and glasses. Plus, I am not tempted to use disposable foam or paper products because I have durable, resuable, microsave and dishwasher safe reusable plates. These  plates  from Shopwithgreen, available from Amazon, are sturdy and environmentally friendly as they are made with plant materials and only some plastic.

For serving the food, especially if it will go in an ice bath, I use plastic bowls with lids. These ones from Kitchen Aid, available at Amazon, are not expensive, are durable and dishwasher safe. I really enjoy these bowls.

Summer Party Food Tips Summary

  1. Keep meat, fish, and seafood on the grill and warm. See the minimum holding temperature for cooked foods above.
  2. Put all food in the shade.
  3. Cover the food to keep sunshine and bugs off the surface.
  4. Put uncooked foods like salads and sandwiches, hummus etc. on ice, especially risky foods.
  5. Keep foods that need refrigeration on an ice bath, in a cooler or in the fridge.
  6. Check the temperature of your side dishes with a food thermometer.

Check out my video on this topic:

Here is a link to the other blog post in this series: Summer Party Outdoor Cooking Tips.

Check out posts on other topics here: Blog Table of Contents.

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Comments are welcome. I would love to know what you think.


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