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Blogs

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Tips for Handwashing When Running Water is Not Accessible

Byline: Lynn Pereira, Student Trainee, Technical Information Specialist

Date: Thursday, May 21, 2020 

By now, many of us have heard several times that washing hands with soap and water is an effective way to get rid of germs, including those that cause foodborne illness. We are advised to wash our hands often, especially before and after handling food. This advice is easy to follow when we have access to clean, running water. But how do you wash your hands if you find that clean, running water is out of reach?

Fortunately, good hand hygiene can be practiced in settings without clean, running water. Here are three tips for ensuring that your hands stay clean if water is not accessible:

  1. Think ahead – Carry bottled water, soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer or disposable moist towelettes for any outing in case clean, running water is not accessible at your destination. Use soap and clean bottled water whenever possible to wash your hands, especially before and after handling food. If you do not have soap and water on hand, use moist towelettes or hand sanitizer.
  2. Use alcohol-based sanitizer CDC recommends using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. You can tell if your sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol by looking at the product label. To use hand sanitizer properly, apply the gel product to the palm of one hand, rub your hands together to ensure the gel covers all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry. This should take around 20 seconds. Do not wipe or rinse off the hand sanitizer before it is dry.
    • Know the limits – Sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. This may happen after working with food, doing yard work or gardening. Whenever possible, wipe dirt or grease off your hands with a clean paper towel and then apply sanitizer.
  3. Use approved products – When cleaning your hands, stick to commercially produced and FDA-approved products. Although hand sanitizer might be difficult to find during this public health emergency, the CDC and FDA do not recommend that individuals make their own hand sanitizer. If made incorrectly, hand sanitizer can be ineffective, or unsafe. For example, there have been reports of skin burns from homemade hand sanitizer. The FDA is helping increase the availability of hand sanitizers by working with companies and pharmacies to address the supply shortage.

Recent USDA studies have found that people wash their hands incorrectly up to 99% of the time. If you do have access to clean running water and soap, remember these simple steps to wash your hands effectively:

  1. Wet hands with clean, warm running water, turn off the tap and apply soap.
  2. Lather hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of hands, between your fingers and under nails.
  3. Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse hands well under clean, warm running water.
  5. Dry hands using a clean towel or paper towel.

Whether using soap and water, disposable wipes or hand sanitizer, the good news is that it is possible to practice good hand hygiene in all situations to keep uninvited germs at bay.

If you have a question about proper hand washing or food safety, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. You can also visit FoodSafety.gov and follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or on Facebook at Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov.


 

A Summer Grilling How-To

Byline: Meredith Carothers, MPH, Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA; Howard Seltzer, Division of Education, Outreach, and Information, Office of Analytics and Outreach, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, FDA

Date: Wednesday, June 3, 2020 

Grilling is a summer classic enjoyed by many. One of the awesome things about grilling is that you can grill pretty much anything! Burgers, chicken, seafood, vegetables… they’re all delicious when cooked on the grill. But did you know that there are food safety steps to follow no matter what you’re cooking? Keep reading to learn about safe grilling of ALL foods.

Clean: No matter what you’re grilling, always start with clean hands. You should especially wash your hands before and after touching raw meat, poultry and seafood items to prevent the spread of foodborne illness bacteria. When it comes to washing food items, you should wash some, but not others:

  • Always wash fruits and vegetables before preparing. Run fruits and vegetables under clean, running water and gently rub to remove any debris. If you are using firm fruits and vegetables, such as melons and zucchini, use a vegetable brush to scrub. Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present.
  • Never wash or rinse meat, poultry or seafood items. Doing so greatly increases your risk of cross-contamination because bacteria can be spread to other foods, utensils and surfaces. If you must rinse your meat or poultry because of a marinade or brine, be sure to thoroughly clean and then sanitize all surfaces, including the inner sink, to eliminate the risk of cross-contamination.

Separate: Always keep your raw meat, poultry and seafood items separate from ready-to-eat foods, such as salads, dips and even any fruits and vegetables you plan on grilling. As soon as you put raw items on the grill, get a clean plate or serving dish ready for when the items are done. You should also pay attention to the utensils used while grilling – those tongs you used to place those raw burgers on the grill could be contaminated with harmful bacteria, which could spread to the fully cooked burgers being pulled off the grill. Ultimately, it is NOT safe to use the same plate or utensils you originally used to place raw items on the grill, unless they have been fully washed and sanitized.

Cook: Grilling uses direct high heat to cook items – it’s what gives them the classic grill marks that everyone loves to see. However, those marks can make items look done before they actually are. This can be a major safety issue! When grilling meat, poultry and fish, it’s important to use a food thermometer to make sure your items are truly being cooked through to a safe minimum internal temperature.

The recommended safe internal temperature varies depending on the product you’re cooking, so use this handy list to know what yours should reach:

  • Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145°F (with a 3-minute rest time)
  • Ground meats (including burgers and hot dogs): 160°F
  • Whole poultry, poultry breasts and ground poultry: 165°F
  • Fish: 145°F

For information on fully cooking other seafood products, including shrimp, you can view this Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures Chart.

When grilling fruits and vegetables, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Marinating vegetables is a great way to infuse flavor and moisture into your vegetables before cooking on the grill – but never use leftover marinade that has been used for raw meat, poultry or seafood items.
  • While fruits and vegetables may not have to reach a safe minimum internal temperature the same way meat, poultry and seafood do, different fruits and vegetables will have different cooking times. Thicker cut fruits and vegetables, and denser vegetables (such as potatoes), will take longer to cook. Because of the high heat of the grill, this can result in a thoroughly cooked outside but an uncooked inside of the fruit or vegetable. For more even cooking, cut fruits and vegetables into smaller pieces and use a medium to low grill temperature. For thinner sliced fruits and vegetables, turn them often and pay attention to when they may be done so you don’t end up with burnt fruits and veggies.

Use these tips and you’ll have delicious and safely grilled food all summer long. For any food safety questions about grilling, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. You can also visit FoodSafety.gov and follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or on Facebook at Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov.


 

Keep Food “Cool for the Summer” to Avoid Foodborne Illness

Byline: Chrystal Okonta, MSPH, CHES, Technical Information Specialist

Date: Wednesday, June 17, 2020 

One of the best things about the summer is finally getting to enjoy the warm weather outside! Backyard barbecues and picnics just for you and your household can be a great way to get outside while staying safe. But rising temperatures can also bring food safety risks. During warm weather it’s even more important to make sure your food is safe by keeping it “cool for the summer.”

Normally, perishable foods can be left out for only two hours before they need to be chilled or discarded. That keeps your food out of the “Danger Zone” for too long; germs that cause foodborne illness can grow rapidly in temperatures between 40 and 140°F. But in the summer, hot and humid weather creates an ideal environment for bacteria to grow even more quickly. When the temperature outside is above 90°F, food is only safe outside for one hour. If you’re planning on spending hours in the sun, then follow these tips to keep your food “cool for the summer.”

“Cool” Tip #1: Bring on the Cold (Sources)

When you’re serving food outside, extra cold sources are a must to keep everything cool. Pack coolers with bags of ice, gel packs or even frozen water bottles so that your food will stay cold and safe for as long as possible. Keep an appliance thermometer in your cooler to make sure it’s keeping your food below 40°F during all your summer fun.

“Cool” Tip #2: Pack It Tight

Full coolers will keep your perishable foods cold and safe for much longer than half full ones. Stock up your coolers before you go outside so that you can keep everything at a safe temperature all day long. If you don’t fill your cooler with food, fill the rest with extra ice. You can also pack foods when they are frozen to maintain a nice, cold temperature for your snacks, even when it’s hot outside.

“Cool” Tip #3: Open and Close It Quick

When you’re having fun in the sun, you may want a nice, cold drink to stay cool. Because beverage coolers tend to be opened more frequently, keep your drinks in a separate cooler from your perishable foods. For snacks, only take out what you need at a time, and keep the rest chilling for later. And never leave your cooler open for long!

“Cool” Tip #4: When in Doubt, Throw It Out

The last thing you want to bring inside from the outdoors is a case of foodborne illness. If your food has been out for a while, it may not be safe to repack and eat later. Don’t hesitate to throw away any food that has been left out in the sun for too long. Keep coolers in the shade so they can stay cool and keep your food cool, too.

“Cool” Tip #5: Remember Groceries and Food Deliveries, Too

Don’t forget to keep your groceries and food deliveries cool when the weather is warm. If you go to the store, bring a cooler or cold storage bag with cold sources to keep your food safe until you get home. If you get groceries or meal kits delivered, track their progress so you can bring them inside immediately. Check that the temperature of your perishable foods is below 40°F with a thermometer, then put them in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible.

If you have any more questions about how to keep your food “cool for the summer,” call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. You can also visit FoodSafety.gov and follow FSIS on Twitter @USDAFoodSafety or on Facebook at Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov. Stay cool, everyone!


 

Follow the USDA Blog year-round for information on health and safety topics.

 

Last Modified May 21, 2020