AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Break out the coolers, and fire up the grill; Memorial Day is almost here. Throughout the weekend, most celebrations involve friends and family gathered outdoors, enjoying nature and good food.
Bridgette Brannon, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System food safety and quality regional agent, said anytime food is in the mix, food safety is of the utmost importance.
“Food safety is important for outdoor gatherings because it helps prevent the spread of germs that may make you, your family and guests sick with a foodborne illness,” Brannon said.
Preparing and Cooking Safely
Food safety begins with a simple task: washing your hands. Proper handwashing is a must before, during and after handling food.
“That means washing for 20 seconds with warm, potable water,” Brannon said. “Bacteria grow well in moist environments, so be sure to dry your hands thoroughly with a single-use paper towel to get rid of any pathogens.”
Whether preparing a crowd-favorite side dish or items for the grill, avoiding cross contamination is key to keeping everyone safe. Always use separate utensils, cutting boards and other dishes for raw and cooked foods.
Never serve grilled food on a platter that once held raw meat, poultry or fish. If people do need to reuse the platter, Brannon said they must first thoroughly wash it with warm, soapy water.
When marinating food before grilling, always remember to put the food in the refrigerator while it is marinating. Do not marinate the food on the counter or outdoors. Also, do not reuse a marinade from raw meat unless it has been boiled to 165˚F to destroy any bacteria from the raw meat.
“For foods like meat and poultry, keep them cold in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it,” Brannon said. “When you are ready to use it, take out only the amount you are going to put on the grill.”
Before you start slapping burgers on the grill, make sure to have a meat thermometer on hand. Brannon said a food thermometer is the only way to tell if meats are grilled to a safe internal temperature.
“Insert a food thermometer into the center of the meat for 10 to 15 seconds to register the internal temperature,” she said.
Below is a list of the correct cooking temperatures for some grilling favorites:
- Hamburgers – 155˚F
- Poultry – 165˚F
- Pork – 145˚F
- Cook large cuts of beef to 145˚F for medium rare or 160˚F for medium.
Safety for Cooked Food
Memorial Day activities often last for several hours, but that doesn’t mean food can be left out for that long. As a rule of thumb, never leave cooked food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. However, when outdoor temperatures reach 90˚F, Brannon said that time window is shortened to no more than one hour.
A lot of cold food items, such as potato salad and coleslaw, can be stored in a cooler to help keep them cold. Brannon said when doing this, be sure to keep the cooler out of direct sunlight.
“Avoid opening the lid too often, as this lets the cold air out and warm air in,” she said. “Remember to pack beverages in one cooler and perishable food items in a separate cooler.”
For cooked items, like meat and poultry, keep them at 135°F (60°C) or warmer until they are ready to serve. When outdoors, do this by setting the food off to the side of the grill rack. When at home, an oven set at approximately 200°F (93°C) will keep things at the right temperature. People can also use a chafing dish, slow cooker or a warming tray.
Brannon’s Memorial Day Favorites
Grilling outdoors is a great time to spend with friends and family. Brannon and her family have a few favorites customs for Memorial Day.
“It’s a time for us to just talk, relax and watch the kids play in the backyard,” she said. “Me and my family like to grill Conecuh sausage and have sausage and cheese for an appetizer while we’re grilling the main course, which is usually steak and potatoes.”
For more information on this and other food safety topics, visit www.aces.edu.