It’s summertime! The perfect time to get outside and have a cookout. There are many potential safety concerns that are more complex than just wearing sunscreen. While our general summer safety tips can help in this case, a summer barbecue has its own unique set of safety risks that you, as the host, have to consider. Account for the safety of your guests so that everyone can have a good time. With that goal in mind, here’s how you can plan your summer cookout with safety in mind.

Be Prepared for Emergencies

If you’re hosting a summer barbecue, your chief responsibility is your guests’ safety. While you should certainly make sure everyone is having fun and that you have good food and drinks, your first priority should be the wellbeing of your guests. Be prepared to react quickly and know exactly what needs to be done should an emergency occur. Have a first aid kit on hand so you can apply basic first aid until emergency services arrive.

An emergency plan and first aid are a party essential, but you should have a plan for more specific risks as well.

  • If you have a pool, have someone watching while people are swimming (especially children).
  • If you’re having a fire, prep the area to prevent the fire from spreading and have water or extinguishers around.
  • If you have horseshoes or lawn darts set up, keep it in a specific area that’s marked so nobody accidentally wanders into play.
  • If you’ve set up a slip-and-slide, clear the area and underneath of any rocks, sticks, or other hard or sharp objects that could harm someone.
  • Follow any and all safety guidelines if you’ll be setting off fireworks, no matter the size.
  • If you’ll have alcohol at your barbecue, have a plan in case someone drinks too much. Replace their alcohol with water, give them a spot to sober up, and take their keys so they can’t drive. If you need to, arrange for someone to drive them home or call a taxi or rideshare, or let them sleep it off at your house.

These are only a few examples, as you should tailor your safety and emergency plans and precautions to what you’ll be having at your party. Be ready for whatever emergency could arise until medical help can arrive. It may be the difference between life and death or make an injury less severe in the long run.

Have Lots of Liquids Available

A cookout isn’t complete without a fully stocked cooler or two, but it’s important to have various non-alcoholic options. This is to help your guests stay hydrated throughout the party. On a hot summer day, standing around a grill or playing yard games, you can quickly become dehydrated without noticing. Hydration is critical to your health and to your body functioning properly.

With high heats and dehydration, you have a dangerous combination that can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

If you become dehydrated, it can quickly become a medical emergency, especially if it’s a very hot day out. With high heats and dehydration, you have a dangerous combination that can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Hydration helps your body to regulate temperature. With high temperatures already raising your body’s temperature, if you’re dehydrated, your body can struggle to keep your temperature at a safe level. Having enough non-alcoholic beverages (especially water) will keep your guests feeling cooler, hydrated, and safe. Electrolytes also help to supplement hydration to speed the process along. Sports drinks or supplements such as Liquid IV can help.

Make a “Cool Down” Area

Speaking of summer heat safety, you should have an area where people who are feeling overheated can go to cool down. This cool down area should be shaded and equipped with drinking water, ice, and a fan to help circulate the air.

As long as your area is cool, shaded, and well-stocked with beverages, it should do the trick.

An ideal cool down area would be inside your home, especially if you have air conditioning. It’s shaded with access to a refrigerator and is climate-controlled. It may be beneficial to set a specific area of the home, ideally close to a bathroom, so guests aren’t wandering around your house. If you’re not comfortable allowing people in your home, your garage is a good second option. If you don’t have access to a garage, you can even use a big, shady tree to store a cooler or rent a canopy to create your cool down zone. As long as your area is cool, shaded, and well-stocked with beverages, it should do the trick.

Store Food Safely

What would a cookout be without food? Any time you’re leaving food out for long periods of time, especially when it’s hot outside, you run into potential food safety concerns. While you should monitor the food throughout the party for signs of spoilage, there are some general rules you should follow.

  1. Keep the food refrigerated until it’s needed or ready to be cooked.
  2. Keep it out of direct sunlight to keep the food cooler.
  3. Follow the two-hour rule (one-hour rule if it’s over 90°F). This means don’t keep food out for longer than two hours, unless it’s over 90°F, in which case you should only keep it out for one hour. This isn’t the case for things like potato chips or pretzels.
  4. Clearly label foods so people with allergies can be safe.
  5. Avoid cross-contamination. Don’t reuse utensils or touch cooked food with a tool after it touched raw food.
  6. Err on the side of caution with foods. It’s better to waste some food than it is to make someone sick.

You can help yourself by having a set meal time, with a window running between an hour or two. Once the window is up, pack up the leftover foods that should be stored safely — like the cooked foods, the fresh fruit or vegetables, or the foods that spoil easily like deviled eggs or potato salad — and put them in the refrigerator. Snacks like chips, pretzels, or non-perishable desserts can be left out for longer.

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It’s almost always fun to have a party during the summer. Once you get the grill fired up and invite some friends over, you’re bound to have a good time. But that good time can end quickly if someone gets hurt or sick from food poisoning. It doesn’t take a lot of time or planning to prevent these types of risks, so you owe it to yourself and your guests to have a safe, but fun, summer cookout.