Food Safety Tips for Summer Fun!
July 4th weekend typically rolls in the start of barbecue season, at least here in New England. Hosting friends and family not only brings the pressure of serving healthy foods, but safely cooked ones as well! Bacteria thrive in warm environments, so the summer months can bring an increase in food borne illnesses, specifically food poisoning. June is National Safety Month, so I'm highlighting some safe practices for the summer months ahead.
Food safety actually begins at the grocery store. Purchase all of your meat and poultry right before check-out and have the bagger separate them from other foods. Grab some extra plastic bags from the produce section and wrap your meats in these for double protection, as raw juices can leak and contaminate other food in your bag. I carry a small cooler in my car at all times during the summer. If I know I'm going shopping, I toss in some ice packs. This will assure you that the food is properly chilled on the ride home. Any perishable food needs to be refrigerated within two hours of purchasing them.
When the party day arrives, make sure that the meal preparation areas are clean. I use wax paper to protect my countertops and cutting boards. I prefer glass boards as they don't harbor bacteria like the wooden or plastic ones. Bacteria can reside in the knife cuts, so run them through the dishwasher after each use or replace them.
If you rinse your meat in your sink, make sure you disinfect your sink afterwards. I usually keep disinfectant sheets handy but we know how hard those are to find these days! So, now I keep a spray bottle of water and bleach under my sink; obviously, mark the bottle clearly and keep it away from children’s reach! Add water and one tablespoon of bleach and spray your sink well. I use paper towels to dry my hands if I handle raw meats. Wet towels are another breeding ground for bacteria, too.
Make sure to completely thaw meat and poultry before grilling so it cooks more evenly. And marinate food in the refrigerator, not outside on the countertops. After transporting the meats to the grill, send the platter back to the sink. I can't tell you how many people use the same dish that had raw meat on it to put the cooked meat on! And do not use the raw juices on bottom of the platter to season meat after it's been cooked. That's asking for trouble. Harmful bacteria are present in raw meat and poultry, and those juices will contaminate safely cooked food.
Use a food thermometer to be sure that the food has reached the recommended internal temperature to kill harmful germs. Place the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat, and after it has rested for three minutes. Do not partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking it later.
Here's a list of cooking temperatures to ensure a safe cooking zone:
145˚ F— whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal (stand-time of 3 minutes at this temperature)
160˚ F—hamburger and other ground beef/meat
165˚ F—poultry and pre-cooked meats, like hotdogs
If you are planning a large party, it's sometimes more challenging to coordinate serving times once the grilling is done, but it's critical to keep it hot until served, which is 140°F (or warmer). Transfer cooked meats to a 200˚ F oven, chafing dish, slow cooker, or warming tray.
It goes without saying that you want to enjoy the company of your guests but remember to keep an eye on the leftovers! Never let food sit out for more than ONE hour in hot weather (above 90°). Discard any food left out more than TWO hours. Divide leftovers into smaller portions and refrigerate promptly in shallow containers. Frozen leftovers can keep for approximately four months. I date my container so I know when to purge.
Perishable food spoils rapidly in the “Danger Zone.” This is the temperature range between 40˚ F and 140˚ F. Bacteria can actually double in as little as 20 minutes when food is kept in the Danger Zone.
Some research studies suggest there is link between high-heat cooking techniques such as grilling, frying, and broiling meats and an increased cancer risk. To be on the safe side, I suggest to keep turning the meats often so it doesn’t burn. Dripping fat on the coals tends to cause a lot of flames. Trim your meats and minimize added oils. Again, to be on the safe side, cut out charred sections of the meat.
And what would a summer BBQ be without S’mores. Compliments of a good friend of mine who never disappoints me at her summer shindigs!