by Bridgette Keefe
From the Editor: Given that summer is just around the corner, it seemed timely to include these food safety tips for all of our blind grill enthusiasts. These safety tips come straight from the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture. Here’s what they suggest for safe and delicious outdoor food preparation:
Around the country barbecue grills are already pulled out of tool sheds and garages and dusted off. Before you start grilling, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) would like to remind you of several tips for a safe cookout.
“Before grilling always start with clean surfaces and clean hands. Wash hands for at least twenty seconds with warm, soapy water before and after handling food. All surfaces that come in contact with raw and cooked foods must be washed frequently,” FSIS spokesperson Maria Malagon says. “Be sure to remind your guests to wash their hands before preparing or handling food.”
Raw meats and poultry should be prepared separately from vegetables and cooked foods. For example, using separate cutting boards when you chop meats and vegetables will prevent cross-contamination. Juices from raw meats can contain harmful bacteria that could spread to raw vegetables and already cooked foods.
If you plan to marinate meat and poultry for several hours or days prior to grilling, make sure to marinate them in the refrigerator—not on the counter. If you plan to reuse the marinade from raw meat or poultry, make sure to boil it first to destroy any harmful bacteria. “We recommend setting aside a portion of the marinade before you put in raw meat and poultry for later use,” Malagon said.
Now it’s time to fire up the grill. If you’re using charcoal, go with commercial briquettes or aromatic wood chips. Remember to follow the manufacturer’s directions on the package label; the same goes for your grill. If you’re using a gas grill, it’s important that you know where hot and cold spots are. Read the manual that came with your gas grill for more information.
Keep in mind as you grill that color is not a reliable indicator of doneness. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often brown quickly and may appear done on the outside, but it still may not have reached a safe minimum internal temperature to kill any harmful bacteria. That’s where a talking food thermometer comes in handy.
“Hamburgers and other ground beef should reach 160 °F to reduce the risk of E. coli O157:H7. Consumers should also make sure poultry is grilled to a minimum safe internal temperature of 165 °F to reduce the risk of Salmonella,” FSIS spokesperson Aaron Lavelle urged. “Statistically, the number of reported illnesses involving E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella is significantly higher during the summer months. That’s why it is absolutely critical for consumers to know the importance of handling and cooking meat and poultry safely.”
The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline recommends that whole cuts of pork, lamb, veal, and beef be cooked to 145 °F as measured by a talking food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, followed by a three-minute rest time before carving or consuming. Fully cooked meats like hot dogs should be grilled until steaming hot. Fish should be cooked to 145 °F.
If you plan on using a smoker, the temperature in the smoker should be maintained between 225 °F and 300 °F for optimal safety. Be sure to use your food thermometer to be certain the food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature.
As you take the cooked meats off the grill, be sure to place them on a clean platter, not on the dish that held them when they were raw. The juices left on the plate from raw meat can spread bacteria to safely cooked food.
“Too often people allow food to sit out for several hours at cookouts. They don’t know that, by leaving food out for too long, they are inviting the number-one unwanted guest: foodborne bacteria,” Lavelle says. That’s because bacteria grow most rapidly between 40 °F and 140 °F, so perishable food should never sit out for more than two hours. If the temperature is over 90 °F, food shouldn’t sit out more than one hour. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers promptly, and throw out any food that has been out too long.
Remember: always keep your hands and everything clean; use separate utensils, plates, and cutting boards to prevent cross-contamination; use a food thermometer; and remember the two-hour rule if the room temperature is below 90 °F (or one hour if the air temperature is above 90 °F).
Follow these tips and have fun grilling. For more information go to FSIS's Grill It Safe page <http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/teach-others/fsis-educational-campaigns/grill-it-safe>, ask Karen at <www.AskKaren.gov>, or call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at (888) MPHotline, (888) 674-6854.