Summer is the perfect time to get outside with friends and family and heat up the grill at the beach, your local park or the backyard patio. That’s because summer barbeques are a great way to get people together in an easy and affordable way, while enjoying tasty favorites like hot dogs, potato salad and even grilled veggies.
While cookouts can be a lot of fun, they can also be a cause for concern, as cooking food outside can increase the risk of food-borne illness. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease control, around 76 million Americans become sick each year from bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella – bacteria that can be avoided with the proper precautions.
If you’re grilling this summer, be sure to keep the following guidelines in mind:
Start off Right – Preparing for a safe barbeque actually starts at the grocery store. When shopping for cookout items, you should always place raw meat into the shopping cart toward the end of your trip and take care to keep it covered in plastic and separate from other foods to avoid cross-contamination. Raw meats should be placed in the refrigerator as soon as you get home or, if it won’t be used for a couple of days, should be frozen. On the day of the barbeque, frozen meat should be thawed thoroughly. It’s also good to remember meat should never be cooked partially and then placed back into a refrigerator or cooler, especially if you’re planning on transporting it to another location for cooking.
Keep Things Clean – From your hands to the dishes you use, one of the most important things to remember when cooking outdoors is to keep everything clean. Be sure to wash your hands regularly throughout the cooking process, especially if you’re handling raw meat. If water isn’t available, antibacterial hand gels can help kill bacteria. When it comes to dishes and surfaces, always make sure to thoroughly wash everything before and after the cooking process. You should also avoid stirring or moving cooked food with a utensil that has come in contact with raw meat, as bacteria can easily spread from surface to surface. Stocking up on disposable plates and utensils can help cut down on the need to wash dishes while cooking away from home. Just don’t forget to bring trash bags for easy clean up!
Heat Matters – Since bacteria starts multiplying between 40 and 140 F, it is important to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot until you are ready to cook or serve them. Raw meat should be cooked thoroughly and reach internal temperatures that range from 145 to 165 F, depending on the protein type. A meat thermometer is an easy way to check these temperatures, since the outside of meat and poultry and chicken can brown quickly on the grill and fool you into thinking it’s done. Also, don’t forget to pre-heat the grill. Doing so about 20 to 30 minutes before cooking can help food cook more efficiently. You can also include recipes that do not contain meat, like our tasty Baby Artichoke Pizza, which is made right on the grill!
Storage Safety – When it comes to food storage, keeping perishables cool is one of the easiest ways to avoid food-borne illness. Food should not be kept out of the refrigerator for more than two hours, so if you’re planning on being outside for long periods of time without access to a fridge, be sure to bring a cooler and plenty of ice. Raw meat and poultry should be kept separate from side dishes, and ice should completely surround all perishables, being replaced throughout the day. You can also try to keep coolers out of the sun to help the ice from melting so you can worry less about getting home to refrigerate food and enjoy more time outdoors!
For more grilling tips, please visit the USDA’s Web site, which offers additional guidelines on effectively avoiding food-borne illness. And now that you know how to grill safely, start planning your barbeque menu. Check out Ocean Mist Farms online grilling cookbook for the perfect summer recipes!
Sources: www.fsis.usda.gov, About.com, FoodBorneIllness.com