My family loves to grill, and now that we live in temperate North Carolina, we’re grilling more than ever. Everything seems to taste better – even vegetables, my son Christopher says – when touched by our backyard grill. I’ve grilled peaches and slices of pineapple this year for a healthy dessert.
But, even when I put on my backyard chef’s toque, I never take off my food safety hat. Food safety never gets a weekend off.
So, here are some hints to make your Labor Day cook-out tasty – and as safe as possible.
First of all, always use a digital, tip-sensitive meat thermometer to make sure that meat, poultry, fish and eggs are cooked thoroughly – color is not an indicator of doneness. I know there are a lot of dial thermometers out there but they require calibration and are not particularly reliable. A good digital thermometer can be hard to find but is definitely worth the investment! Also, print out our Safe Cooking Temperature Chart as a quick reference for checking food temps.
- Thaw your meat/poultry products before grilling, so they will cook more evenly. Thaw items in the refrigerator or microwave (sealed packages can be thawed in cold water), but then grill the items immediately. If you partially cook the meat/poultry, grill immediately -- don’t wait until later.
- Have plenty of hand-sanitizer, clean plates and utensils at the grill. Clean hands and clean or replace utensils often. Plates that carried raw products should never be used for cooked food.
- Don’t cross contaminate. Chop/prepare fruits and vegetables on a different cutting board than raw meat – I use color-coded cutting boards. If only one cutting board is available, prepare produce first, wash the cutting board, and then cut raw meats or other uncooked products. Sanitize cutting boards (with one tablespoon of bleach in one gallon of water or in the dishwasher) after using with raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
- Marinated poultry and small pieces of meat should be cooked within two days; larger roasts and steaks within five days. Before serving a marinade as a sauce, cook to a rolling boil.
- Keep “Hot foods Hot” and “Cold foods Cold.” Refrigerate leftovers immediately - don’t leave them out for latecomers. Food products that are left out for more than 2 hours or 1 hour if temperatures are above 90 °F must be thrown away. Remember, when in doubt, throw it out – the cost of getting sick far exceeds the cost of throwing the food away!
So, this Labor Day or whenever you next fire up your grill, make it delicious but follow these tips to help make sure you’ve made it safe.
We’re starting a new feature on our website sharing stories about food safety and foodborne illness. Let us know how you’ve incorporated food safety at your house – or at your backyard grill. Tell us about a friend or relative who suffered from foodborne illness. Fill out the form here.
Barbara Kowalcyk is the CEO of the Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention. More information on food safety and foodborne illness can be found on our website, www.foodborneillness.org