Summer Food Safety:
Grilling and Picnic Tips

Barbecue time is here! But while you’re hanging out in the yard, loitering over the grill, sipping a cocktail, and watching the kids run around, bacteria could be contaminating your meal. A watchful eye on a few key areas will go a long way to keeping your family and friend free from food-borne illness--all summer long!

Thaw safely. It’s great to have food in the freezer — a spur-of-the-moment party is always at the ready! But be careful how you bring it from the freezer to the table. Food safety experts recommend thawing foods in the refrigerator or the microwave oven or putting the package in a water-tight plastic bag submerged in cold water and changing the water every 30 minutes. Changing the water ensures that the food is kept cold, an important factor for slowing bacterial growth that may occur on the outer thawed portions while the inner areas are still thawing. It is not advisable to thaw meat, poultry, or fish on the counter or in the sink without cold water; bacteria multiply much more rapidly at room temperature.

Avoid cross-contamination. Grilling adds great flavor to meals, and makes summertime entertaining both fun and easy. However, once you’ve placed your raw meat on the grill, wash the plate thoroughly with hot soapy water, or get a clean plate for the cooked, ready-to-eat foods. Cooked foods should never be placed on a plate that held raw meat. Thoroughly cook all meat, poultry and seafood, especially shellfish.

Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Once ready to serve, you don’t want your food’s temperature in The Danger Zone (40F–140F) for any longer than necessary. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration recommends that you keep hot foods hot (use a warming tray or Sterno or votive candle under your serving dish) and cold foods cold (use a bed of ice under your food) while you serve them. Do not leave food out for more than 2 hours (this includes preparation time and the time it was in the car after you left the grocery store).
The foods that are most likely
to cause illness if left unrefrigerated are:

• meat, poultry, and fish (both raw and cooked.
• salads made from starchy ingredients such as pasta, potatoes, rices, and other grains.
• anything containing raw or cooked eggs such as mayonnaise and potato salad, cream pies, and anything else containing dairy products.
• If serving sour cream– or mayonnaise-based dips, be sure to keep the bowl on ice and avoid direct sunlight if at all possible. If holding your party at the beach, a park, on a boat, or at some other remote location, bring a cooler full of ice and keep all foods that may spoil cold until they are ready to be cooked or eaten. If possible, use two separate coolers—one for drinks and snacks, which people will be dipping into frequently, and a second one for meat and other dishes that stay closed, and therefore colder, until it’s time for the meal. Also, if possible, keep raw meats separate from cooked meats.

If you’re serving snacks and appetizers that will likely be sitting out for a while, stick to foods that don’t need refrigeration, such as fresh veggies, fresh fruit, breads with oil-based dips, nuts, and chips (tortilla chips with salsa provide a healthful addition to your menu as well).

Prepare your foods well. Thoroughly wash raw fruits and vegetables with tap water. Even those fruits and vegetables that do not have pesticides grow very close to the soil—another key bacteria-causing agent.

Cover and store leftover cooked food in the refrigerator as soon as possible. Cooked foods can also breed bacteria. Make sure you refrigerate, or place in a cooler with ice, any unused portion of cooked food (again, keep cooked meats separate from raw meats). If this is not possible, discard the leftovers.

Hot foods should be refrigerated as soon as possible within two hours after cooking. Don’t keep the food if it has been standing out for more than two hours. Don’t taste-test it, either. Even a small amount of contaminated food can cause illness. Date leftovers so they can be used within a safe time—generally, they remain safe when refrigerated for three to five days. If in doubt, throw it out-- it’s not worth a food-borne illness for the small amount of food usually involved. Eat Well, Live Well, Be Well!

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