Blog post written by Elizabeth Kuras, IUPUI Dietetic Intern
Warm weather offers the perfect setting for a get-together with friends and family. While enjoying the fresh air and tasty summer cuisine, it is important to keep basic food safety in mind. Every year, health officials see a summer spike in foodborne illnesses, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Foodborne illnesses are caused by eating spoiled foods or beverages. Many different disease-causing bacteria can infect foods, so there are many different types of foodborne illnesses that cause symptoms similar to the stomach flu. By following these five food safety tips, we can enjoy outdoor picnics and barbecues with our loved ones while keeping everyone safe.
Image from www.ecowatch.com/healthy-summer-cookout-2587570276.html
1. Proper Handwashing
Handwashing should always be the first step in cooking food, and should be done often, especially after coming in contact with raw meat, fish, or eggs. Simply wiping your hands on a towel isn’t enough. To kill harmful germs, you must wash your hands with warm, soapy water, rub for at least 20 seconds, then dry your hands with a single-use paper towel.
2. Be Cautious of Cross-Contamination
Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat foods. For example, do not slice your watermelon on the same cutting board that just held raw hamburger patties. It is a good idea to use color-coded cutting boards to prevent this – use a red cutting board for raw meat, and a green one for fresh fruits and vegetables that are ready-to-eat. Wash the cutting boards in hot, soapy water after use.
Also, make sure you are not cross-contaminating food with your utensils or plates. As soon as you put raw items on the grill, get a clean plate or serving dish ready for when the items are done. You should also pay attention to the utensils used while grilling – those tongs you used to place the raw burgers on the grill could contain harmful germs, which could spread to the fully cooked burgers being pulled off the grill. It is not safe to use the same plate or utensils you originally used to place raw items on the grill, unless they have been fully washed and sanitized.
Image from www.insider.com./best-way-to-grill-mistakes-2018-6
3. Cook Food to the Proper Temperature
When grilling meat, you can’t tell if it’s done by simply looking at color and texture alone. Cooking food safely requires it to reach a safe internal temperature, which is the temperature hot enough to kill harmful germs that can cause foodborne illness. Food thermometers are fairly cheap and are useful if you plan on throwing an outdoor party or two this summer!
The target temperatures to remember are 165 °F for poultry, casseroles and leftovers. Ground meats and egg dishes need to be cooked to at least 160 °F. Fresh beef, pork, veal, lamb and ham should reach 145 °F and then rest for at least three minutes. Fish and seafood (all types) should be cooked to 145°F. Hot foods should be held at or above 145°F.
Image from www.southernliving.com/kitchen-assistant/best-grill-thermometers
4. Keep Cold Foods Cold, and Hot Foods Hot
When cold/hot food is left out at room temperature, the general rule is place it into the fridge within 2-4 hours. In the hot summer months when the temperature outside is over 90°F, food should only be left out for 1 hour or less. This prevents the temperature of the food reaching the “danger zone,” which ranges from 40°F to 140°F. When food is in this temperature range, it causes germs to grow at a fast pace, which may cause foodborne illness. During cookouts or other outdoor events, it is common practice to place food on a table and have guests graze the food when they want. However, this can put people at risk for eating unsafe foods.
To avoid this, keep cold food in the refrigerator and place it on the table (in the shade) right before the meal begins. You can also serve cold foods inside to keep them out of the summer heat. Another great idea is to use a cooler or shallow pan filled with ice to keep your cold food less than 40°F. For hot foods, keep your grilled items on the grill (away from direct heat) to keep them warm or store them in an container.
5. Consume Leftovers in 3-4 Days
At the end of your party, chances are you’ll have some leftover food. Place it in the refrigerator ASAP in a sealed container. Consume all leftovers in 3-4 days tops, and remember to cook leftovers to 165°F, or until steaming hot.
Image from canva.com
Grilling out with loved ones is a classic summer activity enjoyed by many. Use these five tips, and you’ll have delicious and safely prepared food all season long, with peace of mind knowing your friends and family will be protected from foodborne illness. For additional information, visit FoodSafety.gov or download our "4 Bases of Food Safety" Handout.
Staff Registered Dietitians at Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana, along with guest blog posts by dietetic interns