Barbecues are a favorite summer activity for many of us. But warm weather and unsafe cooking techniques can lead to food-borne illnesses. These illnesses are caused by E. coli, salmonella and other bacteria that thrive in warm weather. They can be found in raw and undercooked meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products. Bacteria can even be found in fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. To keep your summer cookouts healthy and safe, remember these four guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.
Clean. Wash hands and surfaces often
Bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses can survive in many places, including your hands, utensils and cutting boards, kitchens and grills. To prevent this, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water, both before and after handling food. Also, wash all utensils, surfaces and cutting boards using hot soapy water immediately after using them. Rinse fruits and vegetables with cold water.
Separate to avoid cross-contamination
Begin with your shopping trip. Keep raw, cooked and ready-to-eat foods separate while shopping, preparing, grilling and storing to avoid spreading bacteria. Never place cooked foods on a plate, surface or cutting board that has held raw meat or poultry. Use separate cutting boards and utensils during preparation for meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, and fruits and vegetables.
Cook foods to the proper temperature
Even though a burger might look brown on the outside, it may not be cooked completely on the inside. Keep a cooking thermometer handy while grilling and check the internal temperature before taking your meat, fish and poultry off the grill. USDA guidelines recommend you cook and grill to the following internal temperatures:
- 145 degrees Fahrenheit for fish, beef, pork, veal and lamb steaks, roasts and chops
- 160 degrees for ground beef and egg dishes
- 165 degrees for turkey, chicken and other poultry
Even pre-cooked foods like hot dogs should be heated until steaming hot or to 165 degrees.
After you take your food off the grill, use a clean platter. Also keep grilled food at 140 degrees or above in a warm oven or slow cooker. The possibility of bacterial growth actually increases as food cools after grilling. If you partially cook or grill your meat or poultry to quicken the grill time, put them immediately on the grill. Don't set them aside to finish cooking later.
Refrigerate or freeze cooked and prepared foods and leftovers promptly. That means within two hours or one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or higher. Never thaw or marinate food by leaving it on your kitchen counter. When taking cooked food to a barbecue, place it in a cooler kept at 40 degrees or cooler.
Created on 07/31/2008
Updated on 07/01/2013
- United States Department of Health and Human Services. Foodsafety.gov. Chill. Refrigerate promptly.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC features: E. Coli. General information.
- United States Department of Agriculture. Food safety and inspection service. Safe food handling. Barbecue and food safety.