The Fourth of July is a time to celebrate our nation’s founding. It’s also a time to grab some friends, grab some grub, get outdoors and fire up the grill.
For too many Americans, however, the holiday is going to bring a nasty case of food poisoning. It makes sense that foodborne illness is more prevalent in warm weather. After all, bacteria spreads like wildfire when it’s hot and sunny, and summer humidity gives the little nasties the moisture they need to ruin your food faster than usual.
It doesn’t have to be this way. July is a time for summer camps, not stomach cramps. Learn about the safest ways to cook food outdoors, where you’ll be making lunch without the conveniences you’ve come to rely on. You can keep your family and friends safe without an oven to give you precise cooking temperatures, without refrigeration to keep food cold and without hot running water to keep your hands and produce clean.
Here are five secrets to safe summer grilling. At picnics, at backyard barbecues and at family reunions in the park, don’t forget them.
Get up in your grill. With some steel wool, that is. There’s probably a little bit of gross stuff stuck to the metal grate, left over from the last time you cooked out. Get rid of that bacteria-covered char with a scrubby, some hot water and a little bit of dish soap.
Be a quicker picker-upper. Paper towels are better than dish rags and sponges for cleaning up meat juice, especially if we’re talking about raw meat drippings. Don’t run the risk of contaminating anything else. We’re talking biohazard here. Wipe that stuff up and get the paper towel into the trash right away.
Say sane with sanitizer. If you can use soap and hot water while cooking outdoors, great. But sometimes you won’t have that option. At the very least, keep your hands clean before cooking and before eating by using hand sanitizer or sanitary wipes.
A plate for everything and everything in its plate. Cross-contamination is the enemy of safe outdoor eating. Raw meat, poultry and seafood need to be separated. Use separate cutting boards. Be mindful of the juices they leave behind. Uncooked and cooked food need separate plates, too. Here’s a common example: Say you bring a raw steak to the grill on a plate and then slap it on the fire. When it’s cooked, for goodness’ sake, don’t put it back on the same plate you used before cooking it (unless you’ve thoroughly cleaned it in the meantime).
Hot enough for ya? A food thermometer will be your best friend when you’re cooking outdoors. The stem of the thermometer needs to sink two inches; if you have a thin, flat piece of meat, you can insert it through the side. Take the meat off the grill to take its temperature. Make sure that steak is 145 degrees. Make sure your burgers are 160 degrees. Make sure your chicken is 165 degrees. For details, check out the Foodsafety.gov guidelines.
Learn2Serve’s food safety training programs feature safety and sanitation information that will help you avoid foodborne illness. Lessons make use of audio and video to prepare students to pass food safety exams and earn certificates online.