Like many other North Carolinians, you may be hosting or attending quite a few cookouts this summer, including one or more this weekend! Getting together with friends and family to share good food and conversation is one of the best parts of summer. Unfortunately, there are some hidden risks with all of this food and warm weather, and they come in the form of foodborne illnesses. Bacteria, including Salmonella and E.coli, love warm temperatures, and when they start growing in those foods out on the picnic table, people can end up getting sick. In order to keep your friends and family members healthy this summer, make sure you’re following these basic tips for safe food preparation and serving.
Wash your hands frequently! – Unwashed hands are a major cause of foodborne illness. Before you handle food, be sure to wash your hands, meaning, scrub them well with warm water and soap for 20-30 seconds. After preparing eggs, meats, or produce, wash your hands and wash all surfaces used for preparing those items. And, of course, before you start eating, wash your hands- you never know what those hands might have picked up before mealtime.
Wash fruits and vegetables – Since we eat many fruits and vegetables raw over the summer, it’s important to wash them before preparing or eating them. You don’t need to use any kind of soap, just rub produce gently under running water, or for thicker skinned items like melon, scrub with a clean vegetable brush. For heads of lettuce and cabbage, discard the outermost leaves and wash the head thoroughly.
Avoid “cross-contamination” – Wash knives, utensils, cutting boards and your hands thoroughly between working with different kinds of foods. Raw meats and ready to eat foods, like tomatoes or potato salad should not be prepared using the same utensils or cutting surfaces.
Cook to safe temperatures – Food safety experts agree that food is safely cooked when it is heated for a long enough time and at a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness.
- Take your food thermometer along. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside, so be sure that meats are cooked thoroughly. Check them with a food thermometer.
- Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.
- Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
- Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.
- Cook meat and poultry completely at the picnic site. Partial cooking of food ahead of time allows bacteria to survive and multiply to the point that subsequent cooking cannot destroy them. (Source)
Keep hot food hot and cold food cold – Hot means 135°F or above and cold means 40°F or below. Foods should not be left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours, and if foods are outside and it’s above 90 °F, they should not be left out for longer than one hour. So, if you’re transporting dishes to an event, try to keep them cold or hot with insulated bags and/or ice packs. If you can, serve foods so that they can stay at a safe temperature, such as by keeping serving dishes for cold foods like potato salad on ice. Finally, put leftovers away promptly and throw away any foods that have been left out for too long.
For more information about staying safe with your food, see the US Food and Drug Administration’s ‘Food Safety Facts for Consumers’ at: http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm077286.htm
And be sure to check out the blog later this week for some great healthy recipes that you can prepare (safely!) for your 4th of July celebrations.