Unless another cold front comes bustling in out of nowhere, spring and summer temperatures are here and that means fun activities outdoors, including firing up the grill and cooking outdoors! One thing that is never fun, regardless of the time of year, is a foodborne illness. Research from the United State’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 1 in 6 Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die annually from a foodborne illness. We can reduce our risk of obtaining a foodborne illness by following the principles of separate, chill, clean, and cook.
Food safety’s first step in our homes occurs before food even gets in the door. When purchasing foods that require temperature control like meats, fish, poultry, dairy, and eggs it is important to separate them from our other items so that they don’t leak and potentially transfer bacteria. Utilize plastic bags in the meat section to sequester those products to keep everything else clean.
These products are sensitive to temperature and as a result should remain below 40oF until the time of cooking. When meat products fall into the 40oF to 135oF range, they are in what is called “the temperature danger zone”. This is the range of temperatures in which foodborne illness- and spoilage-organisms reproduce at a much higher rate. Reduce the time products spend in this temperature range by putting them in the shopping cart last, and in the home fridge first! If you are cooking outside and away from easy fridge access, utilize an insulated cooler or bag to protect your products.
Ensure that all work surfaces, dishes, utensils, and hands are clean before and after handling raw meat, seafood, poultry, and eggs. Do not use the same cutting board to make a salad that just had raw chicken on it. After you are done with a task, clean the utensils, the area, and yourself before proceeding in order to reduce the risk of cross contamination. Do not use the same plate you brought the burgers out on to bring them back in the house! You laugh now but I have seen it happen too often to tell.
Finally, make sure that your food is reaching the proper internal temperatures required to significantly reduce the risk of a foodborne illness. Utilize a food thermometer inserted into the thickest portion of meat to check the temperature and clean the thermometer probe between checks to reduce cross contamination. Whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, veal and fish should reach 145oF, hamburgers, ground meats, and sausages should reach 160oF, and all poultry products should reach 165oF.
When it comes to leftovers, divide extra food into smaller portions and place in covered, shallow containers or bags. Place them in the fridge or freezer within two hours of cooking.