WASHINGTON, May 19, 2008 - The days are getting
longer, the weather is getting warmer and Memorial Day is fast
approaching – all signs that the summer grilling season is nearly
upon us. As you make plans to kick off the summer grilling season at
your Memorial Day barbecue this year, USDA reminds you that safe
food handling skills are the key to making your cookout a big hit
with your guests.
“When you’re enjoying a cookout with friends and family, the last
thing you want to do is make them sick,” said Under Secretary for
Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond. “Before you even fire up the grill,
you need to be aware of safe grilling and food preparation practices
that will make sure your guests enjoy a tasty and safe meal.”
Whether you’re hosting a neighborhood barbecue or cooking for a
few friends and family members, the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline
offers four easy steps to help you Be Food Safe and reduce the
threat of foodborne illness:
Clean: First things first – make sure you start
with clean surfaces and clean hands. Be sure that you and your
guests wash your hands before preparing or handling food. Hands
should be washed with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before
and after handling food. Equally important are the surfaces that
come in contact with raw and cooked foods – make sure they are
clean before you start and are washed frequently.
Separate: Raw meats and poultry should be
prepared separately from veggies and cooked foods. When you chop
meats and veggies, be sure to use separate cutting boards.
Juices from raw meats can contain harmful bacteria that could
cross-contaminate raw veggies and already cooked foods.
Cook: Masters of the grill are no match for
foodborne illness, so it’s important to have all the right
tools. Your food thermometer is the most important tool that
will tell you if your food is thoroughly cooked, as color is not
a reliable indicator of doneness.
Meat and poultry
cooked on a grill often brown quickly and may appear done on the
outside, but still may not have reached a safe minimum internal
temperature to kill any harmful bacteria. Steaks, roasts and
chops should be cooked to 145 °F. Hamburgers should reach 160
°F. All poultry should reach a minimum of 165 °F. Fish should be
cooked to 145 °F. Fully cooked meats like hot dogs should be
grilled to 165 °F or until steaming hot.
As you take the
cooked meats off the grill, be sure to place them on a clean
plate or platter, NOT on the unwashed dish that held them when
they were raw. The juices left on the plate from the raw meats
can cross-contaminate cooked foods.
If you prefer to prepare meats using a smoker, the temperature
in the smoker should be maintained between
225 °F and 300 °F for safety. Be sure to use your food
thermometer to be certain the food has reached a safe minimum
Chill: Keeping food at a safe temperature is
always a major concern at picnics and cookouts. Too often, food
is prepared and left to sit out while guests munch over the
course of several hours. However, bacteria can start to grow on
perishable food that has been sitting out too long.
It’s important to keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Hot food
can be kept safe at 140 °F or above in chafing dishes, slow
cookers or warming trays, and cold food can be kept chilled at
40 °F or below with ice packs or ice sources underneath.
Perishable food should never sit out for more than two hours.
And if the temperature is above 90 °F – which can be common at
summer picnics – perishable foods shouldn't sit out more than
one hour. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers promptly and discard
any food that has sat out too long.
One of the best resources available before you plan a summer
cookout is USDA’s virtual representative, “Ask Karen,” a feature
that allows you to ask food safety-related questions 24 hours a
day. Visit “Ask Karen” at
AskKaren.gov. Food safety coaches are available by phone at
the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline
(1-888-674-6854). Recorded messages are available 24 hours a day
and the Hotline is staffed with food safety experts, Monday
through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Time.