Safe cooking important during grilling season
Ladies and gentlemen start your grill!
That might as well have been the battle call of the Memorial Day weekend, since that was the “unofficial” beginning of summer. At the very least, the holiday weekend is considered by many as the start of the grilling season.
Whether you’re hosting a neighborhood barbecue or cooking for a few friends and family members, the last thing you want to do is cause any kind of illness or injury. Before you even fire up the grill, make sure that your food preparation practices are such that your guests enjoy a tasty and safe meal. The USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline offers four easy steps to help you be food safe and reduce the threat of foodborne illness:
• Clean: First things first, make sure you start with clean surfaces and clean hands. Be sure that you and your guests wash your hands before preparing or handling food. Hands should be washed with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food. Equally important are the surfaces that come in contact with raw and cooked foods — make sure they are clean before you start and are washed frequently.
• Separate: Raw meats and poultry should be prepared separately from veggies and cooked foods. When you chop meats and veggies, be sure to use separate cutting boards. Juices from raw meats can contain harmful bacteria that could cross-contaminate raw veggies and already cooked foods.
• Cook: Masters of the grill are no match for foodborne illness, so it’s important to have all the right tools. Your food thermometer is the most important tool that will tell you if your food is thoroughly cooked, as color is not a reliable indicator of doneness. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often brown quickly and may appear done on the outside, but still may not have reached a safe minimum internal temperature to kill any harmful bacteria. Steaks, roasts and chops should be cooked to 145 degrees. Hamburgers should reach 160 degrees. All poultry should reach a minimum of 165 degrees. Fish should be cooked to 145 degrees. Fully cooked meats like hot dogs should be grilled to 165 degrees or until steaming hot.
As you take the cooked meats off the grill, be sure to place them on a clean plate or platter, not on the unwashed dish that held them when they were raw. The juices left on the plate from the raw meats can cross-contaminate cooked foods.
If you prefer to prepare meats using a smoker, the temperature in the smoker should be maintained between 225 degrees and 300 degrees for safety. Be sure to use your food thermometer to be certain the food itself has reached a safe minimum internal temperature as mentioned above.
• Chill: Keeping food at a safe temperature is always a major concern at picnics and cookouts. Too often, food is prepared and left to sit out while guests munch over the course of several hours. However, bacteria can start to grow on perishable food that has been sitting out too long. It’s important to keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Hot food can be kept safe at 140 degrees or above in chafing dishes, slow cookers or warming trays, and cold food can be kept chilled at 40 degrees or below with ice packs or ice sources underneath. Perishable food should never sit out for more than two hours. And if the temperature is above 90 degrees — which can be common at summer picnics — perishable foods shouldn't sit out more than one hour. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers promptly and discard any food that has sat out too long.
Outdoor cooking over the grill is often the centerpiece for summertime fun with family and friends. Following these tips will help you and your guests enjoy good food and stay healthy, too.