Can you believe it? July is here! And that means plenty of opportunities to grill everything from our Oktoberfest Brats to the Towering T-Bone (pictured above) to Dad’s Chicken Breasts to our Fresh Flight Fish. We know that cooking and eating outside (insert reference to the super cool patio at our Madison store) always makes for enjoyable summertime eating.
While fun and something to look forward to, eating outdoors in warm weather can present a food safety challenge. Bacteria in food multiply faster at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, making the basics of food safety especially important. Our friends at the FDA have some great information about cooking and eating food safely this summer online here. We also have some important tips we want to highlight for you here:
Wash your hands. It seems basic, but not everyone does it. Wash your hands well and often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom and before cooking or eating. If you’re in an outdoor setting with no bathroom, use a water jug, some soap and paper towels. Consider carrying moist disposable towelettes for cleaning your hands.
Keep raw food separate from cooked food. Don’t use a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood for anything else unless the plate has first been washed in hot, soapy water. Also be sure to keep utensils and surfaces clean.
Marinate food in the refrigerator, not out on the counter. If you want to use some of the marinade as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a separate portion. Don’t reuse marinade that contained raw meat.
Cook food thoroughly. To kill harmful bacteria that may be present, use a food thermometer. Hamburgers should be cooked to 160°F. Chicken should be cooked to at least 165°F. If you partially cook food in the microwave, oven or stove to reduce grilling time, do so immediately before the food goes on the hot grill. So you’re grabbing ground beef from our Meat Department and you want to know why outside looks pink, the inside appears brown or even grayish? We’ve got that answer here.
Refrigerate and freeze food promptly. It can be hard to remember while a party is going on, but food should not be left out of the cooler or off the grill for more than two hours. Never leave food out for more than one hour when the temperature is above 90°F.
Keep cold food cold. Cold food should be held at or below 40°F. Foods like chicken salad and desserts that are in individual serving dishes can be placed directly on ice or in a shallow container set in a deep pan filled with ice. Drain off water as ice melts and replace ice frequently.
Keep hot foods hot. Another important piece of BBQ equipment is a food thermometer. If you are cooking meat or poultry on a portable stove or over a fire, you’ll need a way to determine when it is done and safe to eat. Color is not a reliable indicator of how much it’s cooked and it can be especially tricky to tell the color of a food if you are cooking in a wooded area in the evening.
Use a digital thermometer. They register the temperature in the very tip of the probe, so the safety of thin foods — such as hamburger patties and boneless chicken breasts — as well as thicker foods can be determined. A dial thermometer determines the temperature of a food by averaging the temperature along the stem and should be inserted 2 to 2 ½ inches into the food. If the food is thin, the probe must be inserted sideways into the food. There are many types of meat thermometers available in all price ranges. Choose the one that best suits your needs.
Really use a food thermometer when cooking hamburgers. Ground beef may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, a particularly dangerous strain of bacteria. Illnesses have occurred even when ground beef patties were cooked until there was no visible pink. The only way to insure that ground beef patties are safely cooked is to use a food thermometer, and cook the patty until it reaches 160 °F. The temperature chart below indicates the appropriate minimum internal temperature proteins need to attain and considered safe once that temp has been met.