The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and USDA are offering tips to Americans to stay food safe this Fourth of July holiday weekend. Outdoor cooking can include special hazards that can make you and your guests sick.
First, grill like a PRO. Whenever you are cooking meats on the grill, whether they are burgers, chicken, steaks or ribs, use a food thermometer. First, PLACE the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat. If you are cooking a thinner piece of meat such as hamburgers, insert the thermometer from the side. Then, READ the temperature. Wait about 10 to 20 seconds for an accurate reading.
For beef, pork, lamb, and veal steaks, roasts and chops, meat should reach a temperature of 145°F with a three minute rest time to be safe. Ground meats should be cooked to 160°F, and whole poultry, poultry breasts, and ground poultry should be cooked to a minimum temperature of 165°F.
Finally, take the food OFF the grill. Always place the cooked food on a clean platter. Never put cooked food on any plate that was used to hold raw meats. And clean utensils used with raw meats, including the food thermometer probe, with hot, soapy water.
If you plan on marinating foods that you will later grill, always put the marinating foods in the fridge. Never marinate meat on the counter. And if you are going to use the marinate to baste the food, or serve it with the food, boil it for at least two minutes to kill any bacteria.
Also pay attention to the time that perishable food is outside of refrigeration. Any perishable foods, including dairy products, cooked meats, egg products, should never sit out of the fridge more than two hours. If the ambient air temperature is above 90°F, that window shrinks to one hour. Serve cold food in small portions if you are away from the house, and keep the rest in a cooler with lots of frozen cold packs or ice. After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served, at 140°F or warmer. Set cooked food to the side of the grill rack before serving, not directly over the coals where it can overcook.
Remember that the “danger zone” is from 40°F to 140°F. That’s the temperature range where bacteria can grow. Also remember that Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, which can cause serious illness, can grow at refrigerator temperatures. Pack an appliance thermometer in your cooler to make sure the food stays at or below 40°F. Pack beverages in a separate cooler, because frequent opening of the cooler will increase the temperature inside.
And remember that food coolers can only keep food cool; they cannot cool food down after it has been left out of the fridge or after it has been heated. Keep the cooler in the shade, and cover it with a blanket or tarp to help keep the food cool. Replenish the ice if it melts during your picnic.
Have a wonderful and safe Fourth of July!