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How to Be Food Safe at The Barbecue

As weather gets warmer and the days get longer, we want to gather with friends and family for evenings around the grill. However, with warmer temperatures also comes an increased risk of foodborne illness.

According to Stop Foodborne Illness – a national, nonprofit, public health organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens – the bacteria in your food multiply faster at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F. Read on to learn how you can prevent foodborne illness while grilling so you can have fun, carefree and safe barbecues all summer long.

Any great barbecue starts with quality meats and vegetables from your local grocery store. To avoid cross contamination between the raw meats you purchase and other foods in your cart, wrap the meat in plastic produce bags (many grocery stores provide these). This keeps the meat juices from dripping onto other items. For grocery stores that offer paper wrapping for poultry, fish, and red meat you may want to request extra wrapping from the employee assisting you. The main objective is to keep those raw meat juices away from produce and other items in your cart.

Remember, the trunk of your car is especially hot on warm days, so for the ride home, or on to wherever the cookout is happening, pack a cooler with ice (or frozen gel packs) to store the meat, especially for days over 90°F.  If you’re traveling a distance and packing produce and other items too, be sure to keep the uncooked meat in a separate cooler from the other items. If you’re headed home, meat and other perishables should be the first out of the car and into the fridge or freezer.

You’re ready to start cooking if you’ve done the following: Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water. Washing hands before and after handling raw meat helps avoid transferring any potential bacteria to other foods. If soap and water isn’t easily accessible, bring an 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer to keep your hands clean throughout the process.

Most important, grill foods to a safe internal temperature.

When preparing your meat, you want to prevent any bacteria from the raw meat (and juices) from contaminating your freshly barbecued meal. If marinating is your thing, make two batches of sauce – one for use on raw meat (marinating) and one for use on cooked meat (basting). After marinating raw meats in the fridge (not on the counter), discard the marinade. DO NOT reuse raw meat marinade for cooked food.

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Most important, grill meat to a safe internal temperature. Using a meat thermometer is the only way to know if meat is fully cooked, so don’t guess! Check the temperature at the thickest part of the meat and sanitize the point of the thermometer in between readings.

Safe Internal Temperatures:

Burgers/ground meat (except poultry) to 160°F (72°C)

Chicken and poultry (including ground poultry) like turkey burgers) to 165°F (74°C)

Whole cuts of meat (including pork to 145°F (63°C), with a three-minute rest time before serving

Fish and shellfish to 145°F (63°C)

When plating, do not use the same platter to serve cooked food that you used to hold the raw meat. This goes for utensils as well – like tongs and spatulas – keeping raw meat juices away from cooked foods prevents the spread of potentially harmful bacteria. Unless utensils and dishes have been thoroughly washed with soap and hot water between transporting raw meats to the grill and removing cooked meats to bring to the table, you cannot use the same utensils and dishes.

If you’re hungry, don’t wait to go back for seconds! On 90°F or higher days, perishable foods not eaten within one hour should be thrown away. On other days (below 90°F), perishable foods not eaten or refrigerated within two hours should be tossed out.

When storing leftovers, fully cooked food can be stored in shallow containers in a cooler with other cold beverages. To be sure food is still good for the next day, promptly refrigerate leftovers in a cooler with ice and then in the fridge when you return home. However, if you are still unsure if the food is safe to keep, just remember – when in doubt, throw it out.

To learn more about foodborne illness, click here.

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