How to keep food out of the bacteria ‘danger zone’

Julia Zumpano, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic, said some summertime staples are more susceptible to bacteria growth than others. (Copyright 2022 by Cleveland Clinic News Service. All rights reserved.)

Food that isn’t kept at a safe temperature can grow bacteria and make us sick.

Julia Zumpano, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic, said some summertime staples are more susceptible to bacteria growth than others.

“Meats, dairy products and any form of animal products -- or salads made with a sauce that may contain egg yolks, like a mayonnaise-based pasta salad, macaroni salad, egg salad -- any of those things are particularly more dangerous,” explained Zumpano.

Zumpano said food that’s meant to be kept cold or hot is of particular concern because it can be difficult to maintain the appropriate temperature.

Food left out too long at room temperature or warmer can cause bacteria, like salmonella or E.coli, to grow.

Most importantly, she said, you’ll want to avoid the temperature “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit -- that’s the range bacteria grows most rapidly.

She said hot dishes should be kept at or above 140 degrees and cold items need to be at or below 40 degrees.

Also, food should never be left out longer than two hours.

“If it’s been sitting out for about two hours, go ahead and discard it and replace it,” said Zumpano. “Serving food in shallow containers, so you’re only serving a small amount and then keeping the rest in the appropriate temperature in the fridge, or in the oven, and then replenishing as much as you can.”

You’ll also want to keep your hands, surfaces and utensils clean to avoid cross-contamination of items, especially when handling raw meat.