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July Cartoon: Gastrointestinal Fireworks
Cartoon of temporary food establishment advertising gastrointestinal fireworks

Happy Fourth of July! If you're hosting an outdoor event this season, take extra care to keep food safe. Many pathogens thrive in summer's heat, and it won't take long for a slice of watermelon—and other perishable foods—to become a hotbed of bacteria.

How long is too long to keep perishables out? It depends on who you ask.

US Department of Agriculture recommendation for how long to keep food out

If it's over 90°F outside, the USDA recommends tossing any perishable food that has been out for more than one hour. If the temperature is under 90°F, you may display food for up to two hours.

US Food and Drug Administration guidelines for keeping food out

The FDA Food Code focuses on food temperatures rather than outdoor temperatures. Hot foods may remain in the temperature danger zone (41°F–135°F) for up to four hours. Food may stay in the temperature danger zone for up to six hours if it stays under 70°F. Once these time limits pass, all perishable food should be discarded.

Test your knowledge: which foods need temperature control?

So far, we've discussed perishable foods, which need temperature control to stay safe to eat. But shelf-stable foods can stay out without much concern. It can sometimes be tricky to tell the difference.

How well you know your perishable foods? Take this Perishable or Shelf-Stable? survey to find out!

For more information, check out StateFoodSafety training or talk to your local regulatory authority.

—Katie Heil

Download/print cartoon: Gastrointestinal Fireworks

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