July 4 is right around the corner and for the estimated 80% of households that own grills or smokers, that means one thing – barbeques. Grill masters can make sure they don’t leave their diners with a nasty case of food poisoning by following USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service food safety tips.
Annually the CDC estimates that 48 million Americans (at least 1 in 6) get sick from food poisoning year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Foodborne illness is more frequent during the warm summer months for two reasons: 1) harmful bacteria multiply faster in warmer temperatures, and 2) more people are cooking and bringing food outside away from refrigerators, thermometers, and washing facilities of a kitchen.
If you can remember four safe food handling steps—Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill—you can help protect your family and guests from getting sick, whether you’re outside at the grill, away from home, or in your own kitchen.
One of the most common mistakes is thinking that meat has been cooked enough by looking at its color. The color of your burger, whether it’s brown or pink, does not indicate that it’s safely cooked. One in four burgers turns brown before it has reached the safe internal temperature of 160°F (according to USDA Food Thermometer Fact Sheet). Using a food thermometer is the only way to tell if your burger has reached a safe internal temperature.
Some people also falsely believe that the quality of your meat—specifically whether it is organic or grass-fed– may mean that it does not need to be cooked as much to be safe to eat. Don’t let this fool you. Whole cuts of beef, pork and lamb should be cooked to 145 ˚F and allowed to rest for 3 minutes before eating. All ground beef, pork and lamb burgers should be cooked to 160 °F before being eating. All poultry (ground and whole cuts) should be cooked to 165 °F before being eating.
There is no better time than the present to adopt the four safe food handling steps to greatly reduce your risk of foodborne illness:
- Clean: When grilling, be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters. Pack plenty of napkins and moist towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.
- Separate: When grilling, use separate plates and utensils for raw meat and cooked meat and ready-to-eat foods (like raw vegetables) to avoid cross-contamination.
- Cook: Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside. The only way to know they’ve reached the right temperature is by using a food thermometer. Never partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.
- Chill: Don’t leave perishable food at room temperature for longer than two hours (or 1 hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90° F) to minimize bacterial growth. If you’re away from home, make sure you bring a cooler to store those leftovers.
By following the four safe food handling steps, you and your family can avoid foodborne illness, especially in these hot summer months when the risk is increased. So fire up the grill, grab that thermometer, and have a food safe summer!