Foodborne illness increases dramatically during the summer months, in part due to more people using outdoor grills or cooking while camping. When cooking outdoors, food safety features that a home kitchen provides, such as temperature-controlled cooking, refrigeration, and washing facilities, are not always available. This increases the risk of “Bar-b-que Belly”, or acute gastroenteritis related to undercooking, spoilage or cross-contamination. Let’s look at some ways of minimizing these risks while cooking out.
From the store to home
Shop last for foods that should remain cold, such as meats and poultry. The least amount of time spent in the shopping basket, the better. To avoid contaminating other foods in the basket from meat juices place meat items in a separate bag. If it will take a while to get the food into a refrigerator, you may want to take meats or perishables home in a cooler with ice. Once home, place perishables in the refrigerator right away. If you are using cloth shopping bags, be sure and wash them regularly.
Food storage and preparation
Keep meat and poultry refrigerated until ready to use. Poultry or ground beef that won’t be used within two days should be frozen and thawed properly prior to cooking. If frozen, allowing meats to thaw completely will help assure that they cook evenly. It is best to thaw meats and poultry in the refrigerator rather than out on the counter. Microwave defrosting is permissible so long as the food is cooked soon after thawing. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water before preparing or serving. Make sure that uncooked meats or their juices do not come in contact with uncooked fruits or vegetables.
A clean cooking area is a safe one
Wash hands, work areas, and utensils before preparing food. You may even need to rewash your hands or utensils if they come in contact with the uncooked food or juices. If soap and water are not available, consider using a liquid hand sanitizer. Have plenty of clean utensils and platters available so that you avoid using the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meats.
Always cook thoroughly
The following are recommendations provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for assuring that meats are cooked adequately:
- Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.
- Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
- Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
Keep cold foods cold
Foods like chicken salad (or anything containing mayonnaise) and desserts that include cream or other dairy products should be kept cold in a refrigerator or cooler until serving. Many dishes can be placed directly on ice, or in a shallow container set in a deep pan filled with ice on the serving table. Perishable food that sat out for longer than 2 hours (or less if the temperature is above 90 degrees) should be discarded.
Serving the Food
Grilled food can be kept hot until served by moving it to the side of the grill rack, away from the flame where it can overcook. When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter. Don’t put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate safely cooked food.
For many people, summertime is synonymous with cooking out and enjoying the outdoors. Make sure to follow these simple rules for healthy and enjoyable outdoor dining.
If you have any questions about safe food storage and preparation, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.