The Fourth of July is almost here, and we Americans love to get outdoors for our barbecues, picnics, parties and clambakes. We grab every opportunity to cook outside – but with those cookouts come food safety concerns.
High temperatures and outdoor food preparation sets the stage for uninvited guests – bacterial party crashers that can cause food-related sickness. Nobody wants their backyard barbecue to make friends and families sick. It's a shocking number, but the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 75 million people in the U. S. will suffer from a food-related illness
Although bacteria found at the source are responsible for most of these cases, a sizeable number are also the result of unsafe food handling practices. Here are 8 tips, from the CDC and other experts on food safety, that should help keep the food you serve as safe as possible during warm weather and outdoor cooking.
1. Wash your hands frequently. Experts say you should wash hands for at least 20 seconds, with warm water and soap. Make sure that any helpers at the party, especially little ones, do the same. A cookout offers a great opportunity to teach good food practices to the kids.
2. If you are handling raw meat or fish, disposable gloves
3. Separate the different food groups. One of the most common ways that food-borne illness occurs is by what's known as "cross-contamination." This occurs when bacteria are transferred from one food to another. It can happen very easily if you are handling something like raw chicken, and then you immediately handle lettuce. Bacteria can be transferred from the chicken (which will be cooked to safe temperatures) to the lettuce, which won't be cooked to a safe level. Use separate cutting boards for different foods, and always wash any utensils that have touched raw food immediately. When food is cooked, don't serve it on a dish that held raw meat or fish.
4. Continually clean your food preparation surfaces with hot, soapy water. This is especially important if the surfaces are sitting out in 90 degree heat.
5. Get that grill ready before you begin! At the beginning of the season, clean it thoroughly with a grill brush both before you heat it up, and after it is hot, but before you cook on it. Cleaning the grill when it's hot helps remove any stuck on residue.
6. Make sure you cook your food to a high enough temperature to kill any possible bacteria. Summertime cooking is more casual, and we don't always pay full attention with so much else going on around us. A meat thermometer is a must for summertime cooking, especially since many grills heat unevenly. Here is a helpful site that gives you safe cooking temperatures
7. Never let food sit out in the hot sun. This may be the biggest single cause of summertime food illness. At most, food can be left out for about an hour without refrigeration. This may vary if it is really hot outside. Remember that foods prepared with mayonnaise, eggs, and so on are especially prone to bacterial growth in warm temperatures.
8. If you are using a cooler, keep it full. A cooler keeps its cold temperature better when full. Pack plenty of ice, keep coolers as cold as possible. Top them up periodically if you can.
These 8 simple tips may seem like just common sense, but they can help prevent an unpleasant illness striking you or your guests. Summer cooking is meant to be fun, and good food safety will help keep it that way!