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One thing guaranteed to spoil everyone's fun is spoiled food. Here are some tips to ensure you can safely enjoy your cookout.


  • To prevent any potential problems, you'll need to keep all food at safe temperatures, whether prepared in advance or cooked on site. Generally, preparing most foods at home is a good idea, but if you're going to cook foods in advance, cook them thoroughly.
  • Partial cooking doubles the risk of unwanted bacteria. Bacteria grow most quickly at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F. So, cold foods must be held below 40°F, while hot foods must be kept at 140°F or higher. If you've prepared all your food at home, make sure it's quickly cooled. Then, keep it below 40°F, both in your refrigerator and your cooler.


  • Proper sanitation helps to avoid cross-contamination between meats and other foods. Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling raw meats. Also wash cutting boards, utensils, and other surfaces with hot, soapy water before preparing other foods.
  • To prevent cross-contamination in the cooler, securely wrap any meats, poultry, or fish that may leak or drip before placing them in the cooler. Make sure any foods you pack are still at 40°F or below.

Packing and traveling safely:
  • Start with well-insulated coolers, and use plenty of ice to keep cold foods cold. Because a full cooler will maintain its low temperature longer than one that's partially full, pack empty spaces with ice or reusable cold packs. Use separate coolers for drinks. Keeping the cooler closed most of the time will help it retain a colder temperature.

Serving safely:

  • When you reach the cookout site, never let food sit out especially in hot weather. It's safer to keep food in coolers until you're ready to cook or serve it and to return it to the cooler to stay cold. That way, seconds will also be safe to eat.
  • When grilling, use an instant-read food thermometer to ensure meats have a safe internal temperature.
    • ground meats to an internal temperature of at least 160°F
    • steaks to at least 145°F
    • pork chops and tenderloin steaks to at least 160°F
    • chicken to at least 180°F
  • Serve immediately, or if necessary, keep hot foods on the grill to maintain their temperature at a minimum of 140°F.
  • Protect foods from insects and other contaminants by using lids or covers. When it’s time to pack up, discard perishable foods that have been left out for more than an hour in temperatures over 90°F, or for more than two hours in more moderate weather.

A good rule of thumb is, "If in doubt, throw it out."


Call NC Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 or chat from this site with additional questions about cookout safety.

Last Updated on 04/27/2022