As the days grow longer, it’s now time to enjoy the weather and a take a much needed vacation! When you fire up the grill to cookout this summer, make sure you take appropriate safe food handling steps to prevent foodborne illness. Foods commonly served at a cookout can carry bacteria that make people sick, especially children, the elderly and pregnant women.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) offers food safety resources on its “Grill It Safe” website. FSIS reminds summer hosts and cooks to follow the four basic food safety steps – clean, separate, cook and chill – during all cooking practices. Remember, simple steps like using different cutting boards and knives to prepare meats and vegetables can greatly reduce your chance of getting sick.
Using a meat thermometer is the most important weapon for guarding your guests against foodborne illness. Meat and poultry often brown quickly on the outside but may have not reached a safe minimum internal temperature to kill any present bacteria. Always make sure your meats and poultry are cooked to the following internal temperatures:
- Hot dogs – 165°F
- Poultry – 165°F
- Ground beef and other ground meat – 160°F
- Whole cuts of pork, lamb, veal, and beef – 145°F
- Fish – 145°F
Another major challenge of any cookout is keeping hot food hot and cold food cold. Too often, food is left to sit out over the course of several hours (remember those 100°F family reunions on the 4th of July). Bacteria grow most rapidly between 40 – 140°F. To diminish bacterial growth, keep hot food on the grill and place cold food in a cooler. Never let food sit out for more than two hours (no more than one hour if the temperature is higher than 90°F). Always refrigerate or freeze leftovers promptly and discard any food that has been sitting out too long. This goes double for foods with mayonnaise (e.g. potato salad). If you notice foods like deviled eggs setting out for long periods of time, don’t chance it!