Warm-Weather Food Safety

It’s the height of picnic and barbecue season, but these festivities can quickly go sour if your food isn’t safe. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), each year about 1 in 6 Americans get sick from tainted foods. Most foodborne illnesses last only a short time. At the same time, foodborne diseases kill about 3,000 people nationwide each year. Those especially at risk include infants, older people, and people with weakened immune systems.

Here, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers some tips on how to keep your food healthy and your guests (and yourself) happy.

Be sure you safely pack and transport your foods to the site of the meal:

*Before you leave the house, thoroughly wash and dry fruits and vegetables. Keep raw meat, seafood and poultry separately wrapped in foil so their juices won’t contaminate each other, or the fruits and vegetables.

*Put cold food in a cooler that’s got enough ice or gel packs to maintain a cold temperature. That means 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. The FDA says you can pack meat, poultry and seafood while they’re still frozen, so they’ll stay cold longer.

*It’s a good idea, the FDA experts say, to pack beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another. If guests keep opening a container with perishable foods to get a soda, the perishable foods may get too much exposure to outdoor temperatures.

*Keep coolers closed as much as possible.

*Clean your hands properly even before setting out the food to cook and serve. Make sure cooking surfaces and utensils are clean.

When grilling, the FDA advises:

Keep your food thermometer handy. Use it to be sure your food is cooked thoroughly.

Marinate safely. Marinate foods in the refrigerator – never on the kitchen counter or outdoors. In addition, if you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion separately before adding the raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Don’t reuse marinade.

If you partially cook food to reduce grilling time, do it just before the food goes on the hot grill.

Keep “ready” food hot. Move grilled food to the side of the grill rack. That will keep it hot while preventing overcooking, the FDA says.

Make sure you’ve got enough platters and utensils. Don’t reuse them, the FDA says; using the same platter or utensils that held raw meat, poultry, or seafood allows bacteria from the raw food to spread to the cooked food. Instead, have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side to serve your food.

Look for foreign objects in food. If you clean your grill using a bristle brush, check to make sure that no detached bristles have made their way into grilled food.

For more information, visit fda.gov.

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