3 min read
Man standing near a grill with an apron on.

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — Fire up the grill and call the neighbors. Memorial Day weekend jump-starts summer fun and outdoor activities, and friends, families and grilling make for a memorable holiday. Janice Hall, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System coordinator for Macon County, reminds people to be aware of safe food handling practices.

“If we don’t handle and prepare foods in safe ways, we could make family, friends and ourselves sick,” Hall said. “Food that is handled, prepared or stored incorrectly can harbor bacteria and other pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses.”

Food Safety Tips

Hall, who specializes in food safety, said there are four steps to remember for food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill.

Wash Up

All food-safe family gatherings begin with clean hands and clean cooking surfaces. While it is the most basic food safety practice, handwashing is often the step that is rushed through or left out.

“Make sure to wash your hands in-between handling raw and ready to eat foods,” Hall said. “Lather up with clean, warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds; rinse well and dry your hands with a single-use paper towel.”

It is important to avoid using your apron or cloth towels to wipe your hands. This can lead to bacteria getting back on your hands and potentially into the food. Hall said you can also use wipes designed for cleaning hands and hand sanitizers. Use hand sanitizers after washing your hands, not in place of them. Hall said it is also important to note that disinfecting wipes are not for handwashing. These wipes are for cleaning and sanitizing nonfood contact surfaces and not hands or surfaces that will touch food.

If you are lakeside or riverside without access to running water—no problem. Create your own handwashing station. Use containers (a cooler with a spout, jugs or bottles) of clean water, soap, paper towels and a trash can or bag. Having a bucket to catch dirty water is also a good safety tip to follow. Take advantage of the handwashing station after handling meat and poultry and before handling cooked foods.

Keep it Cold or Keep it Hot

Hall recommends using separate coolers for hot foods, cold foods and beverages. Be sure to keep cold foods–like potato salad, pasta salad, salsa and fruit salads–on ice until ready to use. These foods need to stay below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Avoid eating or using the ice from containers that are used to keep food or drinks cold,” she said. “When ice is used for storage, it should never be reused for consumption.”

Cooking Temperatures

In addition to cleanliness and proper storage, cooking meats to the proper internal temperature is paramount to food safety at a family gathering. An undercooked entrée could send your guests home with an unwanted foodborne illness. Having a food thermometer available to check the temperature of meats is always a good idea. The following are the minimum internal cooking temperatures for several meats:

  • Poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.) – 165 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Ground meats (beef, pork and lamb hamburgers) – 160 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Fish – 145 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops) – 145 degrees Fahrenheit, with a three-minute rest time

Avoid Cross Contamination, Store Properly

Avoid cross contamination by using a clean plate and cooking utensils to take those burgers, steaks and other meats off the grill. Hall said grill masters should never use a plate that once held raw meat for foods that are cooked and ready to eat.

Although leaving food out on the serving tables for an afternoon may be commonplace, food should not stay out for more than two hours.

“Take care to put away food as quickly as possible, especially in the Alabama heat,” Hall said. “Remember to store and serve cold foods below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. You may need additional ice to ensure leftovers keep cold.”

More Information

Prevent foodborne illnesses by properly handling food at home or outdoors. Learn more about grilling food safety at www.aces.edu by reading the Alabama Extension publication Grilling Alabama Seafood or by contacting your local Extension office to speak with a food safety and quality agent.