As we enter the latter part of the summer, we have gone through several heat waves with temperatures reaching the 100 degree mark. Many families utilize this time to grill out on their back deck with friends and family. Rising temperatures outside also mean that the risk of foodborne bacteria increases exponentially.
The best way to prevent the spread of bacteria is making sure that you are handling food with proper safety and precautions. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has provided user-friendly guidelines for families to make sure that they are healthy and bacteria free this summer.
Simple Strategies for Packing and Transporting Food
- Keep refrigerated food in a cooler. Cold food needs to stay cold or it will become hazardous to eat. You can keep food cold simply with ice in a cooler, or with frozen gel packages. To prevent bacterial growth, the temperature in the cooler needs to be 40°F or below. Keep meat, seafood, and poultry in the cooler while still frozen so they remain colder longer.
- Clean fruits and vegetables. Be sure to clean all produce before packing the cooler. Rinse fruits and veggies under tap water, even the ones with skins that are not consumed. Those that have firm skin should be washed with a vegetable brush. Be sure to dry produce with a clean towel.
- Neatly organize cooler(s). It may be best to pack more than one cooler. One cooler for drinks and one cooler for fresh foods. As people get very thirsty in the heat, they will open the cooler several times for a drink to stay dehydrated. With two coolers, the perishable foods will stay fresh and cold because the cooler will stay closed until ready to cook.
- Securely wrap each food. Keep raw seafood, meat, and poultry wrapped in separate containers. This will prevent juices from leaking on to other foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables.
- Keep coolers closed. Throughout the day, make sure everyone limits the amount of times the cooler is open, keeping the cooler fresh and cold.
Before eating, make sure hands and surfaces are clean. If there is no sink available to sanitize hands, a water jug will do just fine with some soap and paper towels. Sanitizer wipes can also be very useful. While preparing food, keep all utensils and platters clean.
Grilling is very common when people are picnicking outside. Just be sure to follow these guidelines to grill food safely and eat healthy.
Tips for Safe Grilling
- Marinate in the refrigerator. Do not marinate foods on the kitchen countertop or outdoors, always in the refrigerator. Don’t reuse marinade that was used on the uncooked food; instead, reserve a certain amount separately before adding the meat, seafood, or poultry.
- Cook food right after “partial cooking.” If you are going to partially cook the food to make grilling time faster, grill the food immediately after.
- Always use a food thermometer. In order to cook food thoroughly, use a food thermometer to see if it is ready to eat.
- Keep cooked food hot. After grilling food, move it to the side of the grill rack away from the coals. The food will remain hot while not becoming overcooked.
- Never reuse utensils or platters. Bacteria from uncooked food’s juices can spread to the cooked food if you use the same platters and utensils. Always make sure there are enough handy before starting.
- Check for detached bristles. Make sure no foreign objects have entered the food. If you use a bristle brush to clean the grill, check to make sure no bristles have fallen off.
- Cold food– Cold perishable foods, such as fruits, veggies, meat, poultry, and seafood, should be kept at a temperature of 40°F or below until serving time. Do not keep the food out for longer than 2 hours after it is served, or 1 hour if the temperature is above 90°F outside.
- Hot food– Hot food should be kept at a temperature at or above 140°F. Keep the food in an insulated container until serving. The same rule applies with hot food: do not let it sit out for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if it is above 90°F outside.All foods are cooked at different temperatures. Always be sure to cook each food properly.
- 145°F – Steaks and roasts, fish
- 160°F – Pork, ground beef, egg dishes
- 165°F – Chicken breasts, whole poultry
Shrimp, lobster, and crab should be cooked until pearly and opaque. Clams, oysters, and mussels should be cooked until the shells open.
If you follow these guidelines from the FDA, you and your family will have a happy and healthy summer.