Q: As we approach the Fourth of July celebrations, what food safety tips can you share?
A: Follow these four simple steps to safer food for the Independence Day holiday and throughout the summer months:
¢ Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often. Be safe by thoroughly washing hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available at the picnic site, then bring disposable towelettes or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Hand-washing is one of the simplest ways to help reduce the threat of foodborne illness.
¢ Separate - don't cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat and poultry apart from cooked foods. One of the most common mistakes people make is serving cooked food on the same plate that was used to transport the raw meat or poultry from the kitchen to the grill. Cross-contamination also can occur when vegetables or other uncooked foods come into contact with cutting boards, plates and utensils that were used for raw meat and poultry products. So this summer, keep it safe by using separate plates - one for raw foods and one for cooked foods.
It is important to have more than one spatula, fork and other utensils on hand when grilling. Backyard chefs often use a spatula or kitchen tongs to place raw food on the grill and later use the same utensil to remove the food after it's been fully cooked. Because the utensil came into contact with raw food, it could harbor bacteria and transfer them to the cooked food. Be sure to use two utensils, one for raw food and one for cooked food.
Sauces and marinades used on raw meat or poultry should never be reused on cooked foods. Reused marinade could potentially harbor bacteria that can make people sick. Recycling the marinade as a dipping sauce after the food has been cooked is a bad idea if it has not been boiled first. Always allow meat and poultry to marinate in the refrigerator.
¢ Cook - Use a food thermometer to be sure meat and poultry are safely cooked. Studies show that the color of cooked poultry and hamburgers is not a reliable way to determine whether foods have been cooked to a temperature high enough to kill bacteria like E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella. The only way to be sure food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature. All poultry products should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Ground beef and pork should be cooked to 160 degrees, and steaks, roasts and fish should be cooked to 145 degrees. Because summer picnics and barbecues often last for more than a few hours, food that has been cooked and left sitting on the table for several hours should not be eaten. Hot foods need to be kept hot (140 degrees or higher).
When you are transporting hot foods to your picnic like fried chicken or barbecue ribs, take the most direct route. Hot takeout food should be eaten within two hours and within one hour if the temperature exceeds 90 degrees.
¢ Chill - refrigerate or freeze promptly. For a relaxed, worry-free picnic, keep your perishable food in a cooler. The cooler should be well-insulated and packed with ice, or you can use freezer-packs to keep cold food below 40 degrees. For best cooling, leave room for air to circulate inside; don't overload the cooler. Cold drinks in cans help keep other food cool, too. Arrange to carry the cooler inside the air-conditioned car rather than in the trunk of the car.
For longer cold storage, prechill your cooler before packing by filling it with ice or ice water and allowing it to stand for an hour. Water frozen in clean milk containers makes convenient blocks of ice to prechill the cooler.
At the picnic, keep the cooler out of the direct sun and cover it with a blanket, towel or sleeping bag. Reduce the traffic in and out of the picnic cooler by opening it only when necessary. To minimize the time the cooler is open, pack the food that will be eaten first at the top of the container.
Keep in mind, at room temperature bacteria on raw meat and poultry can double in number every 20 minutes. Likewise, thaw meat and poultry in the refrigerator, never on the counter.
Also remember, mayonnaise is not the foodborne illness villain: While all mayonnaise-based salads should be kept chilled, the mayonnaise you buy at the store is not the problem. Its high acid content actually slows bacterial growth. If prepared without lemon juice or vinegar, however, homemade mayonnaise could cause a foodborne illness. When nonacid foods, such as chicken, tuna, potatoes or pasta, are added to mayonnaise, you have perfect conditions for bacteria to grow. So keep it cold. Have a safe Fourth of July.