When family and friends roll into town for Fourth of July festivities, being the host with the most is at the top of most people’s lists. While many worry about campfire and fireworks safety, safe food handling practices are essential keeping your guests and loved ones alive and safe this July.
Really, we mean it, and so do the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when they estimated that 48 million people suffer from foodborne illness each year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths annually in the United States.
About 80% of Americans will be hosting or attending a barbeque, grilling, picnic, or some type of outdoor cookout.
Yes, we normally think about the fact that our meat needs to be cooked enough, With this in mind, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently reminded consumers to keep their family and themselves safe from foodborne illness by using a food thermometer to ensure meat and poultry is cooked to the correct internal temperature.
Hot weather and water increase foodborne pathogens. In the holiday heat, keeping food hot or cold enough is critical in minding the danger zone; food temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees. In this range, dangerous bacteria doubles in numbers in less than 20 minutes. Food should also never be left out for more than two hours if the ambient temperature is up to 90 degrees F, or one hour if the temperature is above 90.
Speaking of temperature
Hot served food should be kept at a minimum of 140 degrees F. Reheated food should reach at least 165 degrees F. Insulated containers and warming trays can keep food hot, when not in a slow cooker or on a barbeque grill.
Cold served food should be kept at or below 40 degrees F in the refrigerator, and when a cooler must be used, it should be stored in the shade with brief opening and closing. A container with a bed of ice or frozen gel packs will do, too.
How much, for what?
Checking the internal temperature of meat is the only way to ensure it is cooked well enough to kill bacteria and other foodborne pathogens.
- Hamburgers, sausages and other ground meats should reach 160 degrees F.
- Poultry should reach a minimum temperature of 165 degrees F.
- Fish should be cooked to 145 degrees F.
- Whole cuts of pork, lamb, veal, and beef should be cooked to 145 degrees F, measured by placing a food thermometer in the thickest part of the meat for measurement. These cuts should also “rest” for three minutes before they are served. A “rest time” is the amount of time the food remains at the final temperature, after it has been removed from a grill, oven, or other heat source. During the three minutes after meat is
removed from the heat source, its temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys pathogens that can cause foodborne illness.
Hazardous handling hints
Proper food safety practices start at the grocery store, before you’ve even stepped foot in the kitchen or started the grill. Here are some pointers for successful July Fourth food safety:
Before: Food safety really does start at the grocery store. Raw meat should be kept as far away as possible from other food items in the cart. When items are being bagged, meat juices must not drip on produce and other groceries. You can take reusable bags for other products, but this possibility for cross contamination can be avoided by wrapping raw meats, poultry and fish in separate disposable plastic bags.
During: When preparing meat for the oven or grill, make two batches of sauce to avoid cross contamination. Use one to marinate raw meat, and another to baste cooked meat. Do not place cooked meat in the sauce that was used to marinate the raw meat. Also, remember to always marinate food in the fridge, not on the kitchen counter or picnic table, to maintain a safe temperature.
After: Think you’ve made it? Not so fast. When the temperature outside is 90 degrees F or higher, perishable foods not eaten within one hour should be thrown away. On cooler days with temperatures below 90, perishable foods not eaten within two hours should be tossed out. Leftovers should be promptly refrigerated.
Some final thoughts from the USDA
Clean: Make sure to always wash your hands and surfaces with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before cooking and after handling raw meat or poultry. If cooking outside or away from a kitchen, pack clean cloths and moist for cleaning surfaces and hands.
Separate: When taking food off of the grill, use clean utensils and platters. Don’t put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry.
Cook: Always use a food thermometer check the internal temperature of meat and poultry. As mentioned above, place the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food.
Chill: Place leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate or freeze immediately. Discard food that has been sitting out longer than two hours.
Now, get outside and enjoy your weather and good company, instead of worrying about whether your food safety knowledge is good enough for your company.