Keeping Food Safe When Cooking Outdoors

The beautiful spring weather we are enjoying makes me ready to get outside and grill in the evenings.  To keep your cookouts safe and fun, follow these simple steps before, during, and after grilling to ensure a clean work space and safe food preparation.

Choose meat, poultry, or seafood that is fresh and high quality and once bought, get it home and in the refrigerator right away.  If the trip home takes more than 30 minutes, use a cooler.  Cook or freeze fresh poultry, fish, seafood, or ground beef within 1 to 2 days; other meat like steak and pork chops should be cooked or frozen within 4 or 5 days.

Thaw safely.  The best way to thaw is by placing the frozen meat, fish, poultry, or seafood in the refrigerator.  This lets the food to thaw completely and cook evenly.   You can also thaw foods in the microwave but if you do, cook them right away.  Do not thaw at room temperature; this can increase the number of germs that make a person sick.

Marinate foods safely to add flavor, not germs.  A marinade is a type of sauce used to tenderize or add flavor to foods.  The amount needed depends on the quantity you are cooking.  A good rule is 1/3 cup of marinade per pound of meat or poultry. Marinate up to 2 hours if adding flavor. For tenderizing, marinate up to 24 hours. It is important to follow these tips to ensure that foods are marinated safely:

  • Marinate only in the refrigerator – never on the counter top.
  • If you want to use the marinade for a sauce on cooked meat or poultry, it is best to make an extra batch of marinade and set it aside.

Cook foods to a safe internal temperature so harmful germs are killed.  Meat and poultry cooked on a grill can brown very quickly, making it look like it is done.  However, the only way to tell if a food is cooked enough is to measure the internal temperature with a food thermometer.   The chart below shows the minimum internal temperature that a food needs to be in order to be eaten safely.

  • Beef, pork, veal, lamb steaks, and roasts: 145 degrees F (medium rare) to 160 degrees F (medium)
  • Hamburgers (made from ground beef) : 160 degrees F
  • Poultry (whole, ground, parts) : 165 degrees F
  • Hot dogs (already cooked): 165 degrees F

Eat or refrigerate cooked foods right away.  Cooked foods like meat, poultry, fish or seafood should be eaten or refrigerated right away.  Never let them sit out for more than 2 hours.  When the weather is warm (90 degrees or above), cooked foods should be eaten or stored within 1 hour.  Foods left out for more than 2 hours (1 hour if it is 90 degrees or above) should be thrown away.

For more food safety information, visit or contact Kate Whitney at the Extension Office.

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