WASHINGTON – As Memorial Day kicks off the unofficial start of summer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is offering advice to prevent foodborne illnesses. Hot and humid weather combined with outdoor activities, provide the perfect environment for harmful bacteria to multiply on food and make people sick.

According to the USDA, filling up a picnic basket with these items to help keep summer fun while handling food at Memorial Day gatherings:

  • If running water is not available, bring soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer or moist towelettes. This will help keep hands clean throughout the day, especially after handling any raw meat or poultry.
  • Avoid cross contamination by using clean plates and utensils. Don’t place cooked food on a plate that once held raw meat or poultry.
  • Bring a couple of portable coolers – one for perishable foods and one for beverages– filled with ice. Perishable items like raw chicken, burgers or appetizers like fresh salsa, guacamole or bean salads should be kept at 40 degrees or below.
  • Do not forget the food thermometer! Cook meat and poultry to the safe internal temperatures. Checking the temperature is the only way to know if food is safe to consume. USDA recommended safe minimum internal temperatures are:
    • Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145 degrees with a three-minute rest time
    • Fish: 145 degrees
    • Ground meats (beef, veal, lamb, pork): 160 degrees
    • Whole poultry, poultry breasts and ground poultry: 165 degrees
  • Bring the right amount of food. If there are leftovers, do not leave them outdoors for more than two hours.

Foodborne illnesses can be prevented by properly handling food at home or outdoors. Make sure to follow the USDA's four steps - clean, separate, cook and chill - to food safety all year and during special occasions such as the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

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