Tomorrow is America's birthday! What better way is there to celebrate our nation's independence than by throwing a birthday bash on the grill?
Many of you will gather with friends and family over the long weekend for an outdoor barbecue. You'll want to remember the warm weather, playtime in the pool or beach and delicious food. The last thing you want is to expose your guests to improperly cooked meat or food left in the temperature danger zone.
Each year, 76 million Americans are diagnosed with food poisoning. Usually they are mild cases, but some are serious enough to send 325,000 people to the hospital. Bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella reside in chicken, beef and pork. You have to cook the meat to a high enough temperature to kill that bacteria or they can wind up in your intestinal tract and lead to trouble.
This blog is your reference for the Fourth (and year-round) to remember some key things to keep your food safe.
Food Prep Safety
Preventing food poisoning starts in the preparation, so keep these points in mind during prep.
- Refrigerate or freeze fresh meats and poultry as soon as possible after purchase. Use ground meats and poultry within one or two days and beef, veal, pork and lamb within five days.
- Wash your hands before preparing food and after handling raw meat. Ask the same of anyone else who is helping out in the kitchen.
- Separate food. Keep raw meat away from fresh fruits, vegetables and ready-to-eat foods like salads to avoid cross-contamination.
- Marinate in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Discard marinade used for raw meat. If you want to use it as a sauce, you must bring it to a boil first.
- Any frozen meat should be fully defrosted before going on the grill.
- Always use new serving plates and utensils for cooked food. So, if you brought a plate to the grill with raw chicken on it, get a clean plate to transfer the cooked chicken to. Seems like common sense, but you'd be surprised how many times I've actually seen this happen.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, only 23% of Americans use a food thermometer to check doneness of meats. While I admit I'm often in the other 77%, the only way to truly know if your meat is fully cooked is by using a food thermometer.
Here are some temperature guidelines for meat doneness we share in our classes at The Chopping Block:
Unfortunately, your job of food sanitarian is not done once the food is off the grill.
- Food should only sit out for two hours and even less (1 hour) if the temperature outside is over 90 degrees. Never leave food exposed in the sun.
- Keep cooked meats hot in an oven set at 200 degrees, in a chafing dish or on a warming tray. If you aren't home, use the part of the grill not over direct heat.
- Keep food covered in order to prevent bugs from making a snack of your meal. Insects pick up germs on their feet and then deposit those germs wherever they land.
- Bring a cooler to keep condiments and salads cool.
I much prefer menu planning to discussing food safety, but it's a topic everyone should be aware of in order to stay safe. Happy Independence Day!