Everyone looks forward to cookouts come summertime. The sun, the friends, the grill, the cocktails… It’s summer in a nutshell. But while your friends are all hanging out and having a great time, the danger of food poisoning is lurking in just about every dish — but one more than any other.
It’s common knowledge that there’s always a risk of getting food poisoning from undercooked meat or from cross-contamination if the same knife that sliced up raw chicken also cut up the fruit salad. But it’s the side dishes that are the most worthy of fear — in particular those that are laden with mayonnaise, like potato salad and pasta salad.
According to the USDA, the “danger zone” for rapid bacteria growth is between 40 and 140 degrees. That means that if it isn’t cooking and isn’t in the refrigerator, bacteria on food can double in number in as little as 20 minutes. That means that no food should sit out for longer than two hours, and if the temperature is getting into the upper 80s, it shouldn’t sit out for more than one hour. Any longer than that and you risk sickening your guests. It’s best to keep the salads chilled over ice.