Staying Safe on Independence Day: Food and Fireworks


Festive outdoor dinner with fireworks  (Adobe Stock 83094833 by BigWhiteMocha)

Festive outdoor dinner with fireworks

(Adobe Stock 83094833 by BigWhiteMocha)

(This article was originally published by our sister publication Contagion®Live.)

Independence Day is a time for celebration with friends and family, often centered around outdoor picnics and barbecues. However, amidst the festivities, it is important to prioritize food safety to prevent foodborne illnesses.

Grilling is a beloved tradition on the fourth of July, but cooking food thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria is essential. Shannon Fitzgerald, PharmD, Pharmacist/Toxicologist, and medical contributor for Drugwatch, provides insights into maintaining safety while enjoying the festivities,

“Since bacteria in food multiply faster at temperatures between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F. Following the FDA Prevention Tips above and being aware of temperatures while picnicking or barbecuing are essential to avoid foodborne illness. Hamburgers should be cooked to 160 degrees F (brown all the way through), and chicken should be cooked to at least 165 degrees F. Keeping any materials that have come into contact with raw meat very clean is essential (avoiding cross-contamination!).”

Main Takeaways

  1. It is essential to cook hamburgers to 160°F and chicken to at least 165°F to destroy all harmful bacteria.
  2. Keep raw meats separate from ready-to-eat foods and clean all utensils and surfaces that come into contact with raw meat to avoid spreading bacteria.
  3. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours (or 1 hour if the temperature is above 90°F) to prevent bacteria from multiplying and ensure food remains safe to eat.

Foodborne illness, commonly known as food poisoning, arises from consuming food contaminated with bacteria, toxins, parasites, viruses, chemicals, or other harmful agents. Despite the US boasting one of the safest food supplies globally, federal estimates indicate approximately 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually. This statistic translates to roughly 1 in 6 Americans falling ill from tainted food, leading to an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year.

Fitzgerald advises, “To effectively eliminate harmful bacteria, common foodborne pathogens, the FDA recommends thorough handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (consider carrying moist disposable towelettes if running water is unavailable), keeping raw and cooked foods separate, marinating food in the refrigerator rather than on the counter, using a food thermometer to ensure thorough cooking, promptly refrigerating or freezing food (avoid leaving food out of coolers or off the grill for more than 2 hours; 1 hour in temperatures exceeding 90°F), and maintaining hot foods at or above 140°F and cold foods at or below 40°F.”

Foodborne illness occurs when individuals ingest food or drinks contaminated with pathogens, chemicals, or toxins. Factors such as a weakened immune system or age can exacerbate the severity and symptoms of food poisoning.

“When reheating food, it should reach 165 degrees F, and foods like chicken salad and desserts should be kept in individual serving dishes and placed directly on ice or in a shallow container set in a deep ice-filled pan. A little extra preparation before a fun event can keep you and summer party-goers healthy for the whole season,” emphasizes Fitzgerald.

Adhering to these guidelines will guarantee that your July Fourth BBQ is delicious and safe for everyone to enjoy. Taking these precautions with food handling and cooking temperatures will significantly reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses, ensuring a memorable celebration.


FDA. Foodborne Pathogens. Updated May 3, 2023. Accessed July 2, 2024.,weakened%20immune%20system%20and%20age.

Recent Videos
Andrea Flinchum, 2024 president of the Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology, Inc (CBIC) explains the AL-CIP Certification at APIC24
Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology  (Image credit: APIC)
Lila Price, CRCST, CER, CHL, the interim manager for HealthTrust Workforce Solutions; and Dannie O. Smith III, BSc, CSPDT, CRCST, CHL, CIS, CER, founder of Surgicaltrey, LLC, and a central processing educator for Valley Health System
Jill Holdsworth, MS, CIC, FAPIC, CRCSR, NREMT, CHL, and Katie Belski, BSHCA, CRCST, CHL, CIS
Baby visiting a pediatric facility  (Adobe Stock 448959249 by
Antimicrobial Resistance (Adobe Stock unknown)
Anne Meneghetti, MD, speaking with Infection Control Today
Patient Safety: Infection Control Today's Trending Topic for March
Infection Control Today® (ICT®) talks with John Kimsey, vice president of processing optimization and customer success for Steris.
Related Content