Labor Day weekend is always filled with celebration, fun, and delicious backyard Bar-B-Que’s. However, it’s important to make sure you’re practicing proper food safety techniques when it comes to your favorite spreads. The two biggest safety concerns to keep in mind while grilling involve the threat of cross-contamination and sickness due to undercooked meat. These issues can be easily avoided by remembering the four key concepts outlined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.
Begin your preparations with clean surfaces and clean hands. Make sure that both you and your guests wash your hands before preparing or handling food. Most importantly, make sure that the surfaces that come in contact with raw and cooked foods are cleaned before you start cooking and are washed frequently throughout the process.
Any potential pathogens on uncooked meat can easily be transferred between foods or surfaces. Separately prepare raw meats and poultry from vegetables and other cooked foods. As you chop meats and veggies, be sure to use separate cutting boards, knives, and utensils. If you have handled raw meat with your hands, make sure to wash them thoroughly before handling any other food or utensils.
Ensure that meat is cooked thoroughly. When cooking on a grill, meat and poultry often brown quickly, thus appearing done on the outside. However, these items still may not have reached a safe minimum internal temperature to kill any harmful bacteria. The best way to ensure that the meat is correctly cooked is to use a temperature probe. The FDA recommends animal products be cooked thoroughly at the following temperatures:
145° F for whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb and veal
145° F for fish
160° F for hamburgers and other ground beef
165° F for all poultry and pre-cooked meats such as hot dogs
If you are smoking meats, the temperature in the smoker should be maintained between 225° F and 300° F for safety. It is always best to check the internal temperature of the smoked meat with a piercing probe thermometer to ensure it’s fully cooked.
Hot foods are not the only ones that need attention. Bacteria grow most rapidly between 40° F and 140° F, so perishable food should never sit out for more than two hours. If the temperature outside is higher than 90°F, food should not sit out for more than one hour. Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers promptly. It is best to discard any food that has been sitting out too long. As an added precaution, if possible, keep your food in a shaded area.
When it comes down to it, keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot foods can be kept hot on the grill and cold foods can be kept chilled with ice packs or ice sources in a cooler. With these safety tips, you are ready to have the best backyard Bar-B-Que in town!