Before packing up the cooler and lighting the grill for the summer outdoor festivities, Arkansans should keep in mind some basic tips to prevent foodborne illness.

“Hot and humid weather combined with outdoor activities provide the perfect environment for harmful bacteria to multiply on food and make people sick,” said Easter H. Tucker, interim family and consumer sciences program leader for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

“Foodborne illnesses can be prevented by properly handling food at home or outdoors,” Tucker said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), individuals should always follow the four basic tenets of food safety – food should be cleaned, separated, cooked and chilled. The principles also apply when preparing food for outdoor festivities.

To ensure food safety during summer gatherings, Arkansans should plan on bringing the following items recommended by FSIS:

• Soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer or moist towelettes. If running water is not available, these items will keep hands clean throughout the day, especially after handling any raw meat or poultry.

• Clean plates and utensils. To avoid cross contamination, cooked food should never be served on a plate that once held raw meat.

• Portable coolers filled with ice. Perishable items and drinks should be kept in separate coolers. Perishable items such as raw chicken, burgers or appetizers such as fresh salsa, guacamole or bean salads should be kept at 40 degrees F or below.

• Food thermometer. Cook meat and poultry to 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: 145 degrees F for beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops) with a three-minute rest time; 145 degrees F for fish; 160 degrees F for ground meats (beef, veal, lamb and pork); and 165 degrees F for whole poultry, poultry breasts and ground poultry.

“It’s important to try to bring just the right amount of food that you will consume at your picnic or family gathering,” Tucker said. “If you still end up with some leftovers, don’t leave them outdoors for more than two hours.”

Consumers can learn more about key food safety practices by following FSIS @USDAFoodSafety on Twitter or Facebook. Consumers with questions about food safety can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist in English or Spanish at, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.

— Will Hehemann is a writer/editor with the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.