Thunderstorms, insects, and annoying relatives are not the only thing that could ruin a cookout. Many beloved summertime foods are susceptible to contamination by several foodborne bacteria.
The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) reminds all cooks to follow four simple tips—clean, separate, cook and chill—for a safe cookout. Additional safe food handling and cooking tips are available at the Grill It Safe website.
Clean and Separate
Preparation begins long before your guests arrive. Wash your hands, cutting boards and utensils with warm soapy water before handling food. To prevent cross contamination, raw meat products should be separated from other food items. Also, use different knives and cutting boards during preparation of these products.
Always keep meat products chilled until the grill is ready. Thaw meat completely to ensure meat cooks evenly on the grill. If you choose to use a marinade, do not reuse the marinade liquids that have been in contact with the raw meat later on a cooked dish.
All foodborne bacteria are killed when foods are heated to the proper temperature. FSIS reminds cooks to use a meat thermometer to ensure meat reaches the safe internal temperature.
- Hot dogs—165 °F or until steaming hot,
- Poultry—165 °F,
- Ground beef and other ground meat—160 °F,
- Whole cuts of pork, lamb, veal and beef—145 °F (followed by a three-minute rest time), and
- Fish—145 °F.
Some popular side dishes like cold cuts, prepared salads (such as chicken salad or egg salad), and soft cheeses purchased at a deli are not typically reheated. These foods pose a risk of contamination with L. monocytogenes, a bacterium that can grow at normal refrigerator temperatures. Most healthy people rarely contract listeriosis, but it can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in people in at-risk groups, including people with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, infants, and the elderly. If you or your guests fall into any of the at-risk categories, these food products should be avoided or reheated until hot and steamy (165 °F) to ensure food safety.
After the table is set and the feasting begins, do not let your guard down. Bacteria grow most rapidly between 40 °F and 140 °F. To limit bacterial growth, keep hot food on the grill and place cold food in a cooler or ice bath. Never let perishable food sit out for more than two hours. If the outdoor temperature exceeds 90 °F, food should not sit out more than one hour. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers promptly and discard any food that has been sitting out too long.
By following these simple tips, you have piece of mind that you are serving your family and friends healthful and safe foods.