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Don’t invite food poisoning to Memorial Day gatherings

PHOTO: Keep foodborne illnesses away from your warm-weather outdoor meals. Mary Altaffer~AP

Even with dreary weather, Memorial Day weekend is the official start to summer, and with that comes lots of outdoor eating.

Whether it’s barbecues, picnics or meals shared at concerts under the stars, we’ve finally arrived at those days when the weather is nicer and more of our activities — including dining — happen outdoors. And nothing puts a crimp on fun like food poisoning.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture knows that the number of foodborne illnesses increase in summer. Don’t let that happen to you and yours. Here are a few tips on how to keep your food safe and your dining companions well:

Clean, and then clean some more. Your utensils, plates, hands all need to be washed often and thoroughly with warm water and soap while you are preparing your food. Dn’t forget the countertops! If you’re going to be outdoors away from a sink and soap, bring along some sort of antibacterial hand wipes.

Separate! This is probably the number one rule for outdoor dining: keep your hot food hot and cold ones cold. It’s that “room temperature” state that causes trouble. All the bacteria you want to avoid grow quicker in warmer temperatures. Yes, it’s more work, but better to cook a new batch of burgers when later guests arrive than to make a couple dozen and leave them sitting out in the sun all afternoon.

No mixing! That is, the raw and the cooked. That pretty platter you used to carry raw patties out to the grill should never be the same one you use to serve your cooked burgers. (Only exception is if you washed it thoroughly — and by that I mean obsessively — with warm, soapy water.)

Put a thermometer to use. I can’t tell you how often I was sure something was cooked to the correct temperature only to stick in the food thermometer and discover I was wrong. Do it. Every time.

Be cool! Remember I said keeping cold food cold was important? To do that you must have enough coolers to keep the perishables cold. Have enough on hand to hold the leftovers later. Once the temperatures outdoors get really hot, don’t let your foods sit out more than an hour. Keep the coolers out of the sun, if possible. And remember, a full cooler will remain chilled longer than one that’s not.