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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.

Watch the temperature:

  • Cook foods thoroughly.  Partial cooking doubles the risk of unwanted bacteria.  
  • Keep all food at safe temperatures, whether prepared in advance or cooked on site.  Bacteria grow most quickly at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F.
    • Cold foods must be held below 40°F.
    • Hot foods must be kept at 140°F or higher.
    • If food is prepared at home, make sure it's quickly cooled. Then, keep it below 40°F, both in the refrigerator and the cooler.

Keep it clean:

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling raw meats.
  • Wash cutting boards, utensils, and other surfaces with hot, soapy water before preparing other foods.
  • Wrap any meats, poultry, or fish that may leak or drip before placing them in a cooler. 

Pack safely:

  • Start with a well-insulated cooler.
  • Use plenty of ice to keep cold foods cold. A full cooler will maintain its low temperature longer than one that's partially full. 
  • Use separate coolers for drinks.
  • Keep the cooler closed most of the time, so it will stay cold.
  • Make sure any foods you pack are still at 40°F or below.


Serve safely:

  • Keep food in coolers until you're ready to cook or serve it.  Return it to the cooler to stay cold, so leftovers will be safe to eat.
  • When grilling, use an instant-read food thermometer to ensure meats have a safe internal temperature.
    • Cook ground meats to an internal temperature of at least 160°F.
    • Cook steaks to at least 145°F.
    • Cook pork chops and tenderloin steaks to at least 160°F.
    • Cook 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 by using lids or covers.
  • Throw foods away 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, "When 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 12/20/2023