Memorial Day weekend is here and it marks the beginning of the summer season of backyard grilling. Meals cooked outdoors always increase during the summer months and the variety of food people put on the grill seems to be expanding. With all of the food preparation in summer temperatures, you need to be aware of safe food handling practices. Backyard chefs don’t think about it, but each year outbreaks of food poisoning increase during the summer months. Bacteria that cause food poisoning are invisible, odorless and tasteless; warm summer temperatures rapidly increase their growth. Since it is not appetizing to think about food invaders like E. coli, clostridium perfringens or salmonella, using safe food handling methods will drastically reduce your chances of exposing your family and friends to food borne illness. First, marinate meats in a glass dish in the refrigerator, not the kitchen countertop. If you plan to use some of the marinade for basting or a dip, reserve a portion before you put raw meat into it. Bacteria from raw meat will contaminate the liquid and it should be discarded after the marinating time is over. Coals should be very hot before food is placed on the grill for cooking. A hot grill will assure that food is cooked at a high enough temperature to destroy bacteria. It takes 30 minutes or longer before coals are hot enough; they should appear to have a light coating of ash for the highest temperature. Meat should be thoroughly cooked. The best way to check for doneness is to use a meat thermometer. Whole cuts of beef, steaks and roasts should be cooked to internal temperature of 145°F, while ground meat needs to reach an internal temperature of 160°F.
Poultry needs to reach an internal temperature of 165°F, be sure the thermometer is inserted in the fleshy part of the meat and not touching bone. If you don’t have a thermometer, visually check by cutting into the meat to be sure the juices are clear and not pink in color. To avoid flare-ups and charred food, remove visible fat from meat. Temperatures for cooking pork have changed in recent years; USDA now recommends a cooking temperature of 145°F with a resting time of 3 minutes. Research showed the internal temperature continues to rise during the resting time and reaches 160°F. Put cooked foods on a clean plate that hasn’t been used to hold raw meat or poultry. Cooking food destroys bacteria, but if you put it back on the same plate that held raw food, you expose it to bacteria again. Food safety experts call this cross contamination and it will cause food borne illness. Perishable foods need to be served hot off the grill. Food safety expert’s advise food should be eaten within two hours. If you are eating outdoors, keep in mind warm temperatures reduce that time to one hour. Likewise, cold food needs to be kept on ice when served outdoors. All leftovers should be promptly divided in to small containers and placed in the refrigerator. Simple changes in the way you prepare and serve your backyard barbeque will greatly reduce your risk for food borne illness. For more information on food safety, contact the Madison County Extension Service. The University of Florida Extension – Madison County is an Equal Employment Opportunity Institution.