Time to fire up the grill!
In many areas across the country, Memorial Day Weekend marks the unofficial start of summer and barbecuing season.
When grilling for a Memorial Day party – or for other gatherings year-round – there are safety precautions to take when it comes to handling food for a backyard BBQ. Those precautions should start before the grill’s flame has been lit and should continue after the spatula has made its way to the sink.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people die from foodborne illness each year in America. Rates increase during the summer months due to warmer temperatures that cause food to spoil.
Here are three tips from the United States Department of Agriculture on how best to prepare, cook, chill and store food this Memorial Day.
1. Wash your hands
Common sense when handling food, right? Yes, but most times one wash just isn’t enough. If handling raw meat, be sure to rewash before handling food that has already been cooked — or before grabbing a chip or two.
“It’s really important for you to maintain a separation between raw products from those that are ready to eat,” said Beverly Cazares, USDA food safety specialist.
Wash for at least 20 seconds with soap. If barbecuing at a park without access to a sink, use hand sanitizer while handling food.
2. Use a meat thermometer
Grillers take pride in their work. Some may think they have mastered barbecuing, flipping burgers and steaks at the perfect time and then removing them from the grill at peak juiciness. But sometimes, even the best of grillers misjudge, serving food that is far too crispy and dry, or even worse, far too pink and undercooked.
Instead of leaving it to chance, use a meat thermometer and make sure the proper temperature is reached before serving.
“[Meat] can brown really well on the outside, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s fully cooked to kill all the bacteria,” Cazares said.
Minimum internal temperatures, per USDA, are 145 degrees Fahrenheit for beef, pork, veal and lamb steaks, chops and roasts; 160 degrees for ground meats; and 165 degrees for all poultry.
3. Avoid the “Danger Zone”
The food has been cooked to perfection, the grill has been turned off, the spread has been placed on the table.
Sure, much of the barbecued chicken and ribs went fast, but some of it is still sitting around getting ice cold while awaiting a taker. At the opposite end of the table are some salads, cheese and mayonnaise that have spent the last four hours roasting in the sun.
Whoever is next to make a plate could be getting a side of bacteria.
Properly storing the food is essential. Hot foods should be kept hot by using warming trays, and foods normally stored in the refrigerator should be kept cool by placing them over ice or storing them in a cooler under the shade.
Leave food out for no more than two hours, or if the temperature is more than 90 degrees outside, no more than one hour.
Avoid the “Danger Zone” for foods where bacteria can flourish, which are temperatures between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
“If you’re not keeping your food hot or cold, then most likely you’re in that ‘Danger Zone,’” Cazares said, “and that can potentially make you sick.”