Table of Contents
- While grilling meats, vegetables and other foods, be aware to prevent the spread of bacteria from raw meat to other foods.
- Cross-contamination can lead to foodborne illnesses. About one in six Americans get a foodborne illness annually.
- The 48 million foodborne illnesses each year lead to about 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
For many Americans, Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of the outdoor grilling season – but it’s no time to slack off on food safety when preparing their feasts, health officials urge.
However you are cooking or grilling, you want to safely prepare and cook your steaks, chicken, burgers, veggies and hot dogs to prevent family and guests from getting any foodborne illnesses.
Health officials have voiced concerns because recent research suggested many consumers didn’t use food thermometers or wash their hands properly, or at all – despite the stressing of that during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Following safe food handling practices during this and all other seasons can reduce the risk of you and your loved ones getting sick,” said Sandra Eskin, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s deputy under secretary for food safety, in a statement about the findings.
Ahead of firing up the grill, here’s some tips to help practice food safety.
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How long should you wash your hands for?
The reason health officials are worried about handwashing? The USDA’s study found more than half (56%) of participants didn’t wash their hands at all when prepping food. And when hands were washed, nearly all (95%) did it improperly.
But washing your hands the right way prevents germs or bacteria from transferring to your food. This is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend:
- Get your hands wet with clean, running water.
- Apply soap, then scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Sing “Happy Birthday” twice to know you’ve scrubbed enough.
- Rinse your hands well.
- Dry them off with a clean towel.
You should always wash your hands after preparing meats. And don’t forget to clean your grill. If you don’t have access to a faucet, use bottled water, soap and paper towels.
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How long can cold food sit out after you buy it?
Food safety starts long before you fire up the grill. When you buy cold foods like raw meat or poultry, you want to make sure it’s refrigerated within two hours of buying it at the grocery store, or one hour if it’s above 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside, says the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service.
When purchasing meat and other products such as produce, bag them separately and store them in separate parts of the refrigerator to prevent bacteria from beef, pork or chicken transferring to lettuce, peppers and other vegetables or fruits.
What is cross-contamination?
Preventing cross-contamination is a major theme for National Food Safety Education Month, promoted this month by the CDC, USDA and Food and Drug Administration.
Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella is transferred from raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs to salads, vegetables and fruits, as well as other food that is already cooked.
Each year, foodborne illnesses account for about 48 million cases, affecting about one in six Americans, according to the CDC. These lead to about 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, the CDC says.
The main ways people cross-contaminate foods is by using the same cutting boards and plates for different foods and contaminating their kitchen sinks. Always wash your kitchen counter, cutting boards and utensils after they are used on raw meats.
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What temperatures should beef, poultry, pork reach when cooking?
Beef, poultry and other foods can be cooked together on the grill. But meats need to be cooked to a certain internal temperature to make sure you get rid of any bacteria. The FSIS advises using a food thermometer to double check your meats hit the right temperature.
All poultry – including ground poultry – should hit a minimum temperature of 165° Fahrenheit, while burgers made of ground beef, pork, veal or lamb should reach 160° F, says the agency.
For whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb or veal, the CDC says internal temperature should reach 145° F, then let the meat rest for three minutes before serving or eating.
Remember, when removing cooked meat and vegetables from the grill, don’t use the same tools or plates that have touched raw meat.
Also, don’t reuse marinades that have been used with raw meat.
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How to transport food safely
If you’re bringing food over to cook at another location, like a family member or friend’s home or a local park, the FSIS advises using an insulated cooler with enough ice or ice packs so the temperature inside doesn’t get above 40° F.
How long can food sit out?
The FSIS says you shouldn’t let food sit out for longer than two hours, or one hour if it’s hotter than 90° F outside.
Keep coolers nearby to chill food if needed. If the food sits out beyond two hours, just throw it out.
How to store leftovers safely, and how long you can keep them
Make sure leftover food is covered in airtight wrapping or sealed containers. The USDA says leftovers can stay in the refrigerator three to four days or three to four months in a freezer.
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.