AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – Sunshine, hot dogs and cold drinks just about sums up a good Memorial Day. As people gather with friends and family, make sure to also serve up some food safety alongside the cookout.
“If we don’t handle and prepare foods in safe ways, we could make family, friends and ourselves sick,” said Janice Hall, an Alabama Extension regional food safety agent. “Food that is handled, prepared or stored incorrectly can harbor bacteria and other pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses.”
Hall describes below the four basic steps to preventing the start and spread of foodborne illnesses at your Memorial Day cookout.
First things first; wash your hands. This should be common practice because of the pandemic, but it never hurts to remind people. Make sure to wash your hands in between handling raw and ready to eat foods. Lather with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Thoroughly rinse and dry your hands with a single-use paper towel.
“Avoid using aprons or cloth towels for drying as this can lead to bacteria growth and recontamination of your hands,” Hall said.
Hand sanitizer and wipes used for cleaning hands are also an option. However, only use these after washing your hands as they are not a substitute for handwashing.
CAUTION: Do not use disinfectant types of wipes for handwashing. These wipes are for cleaning and sanitizing nonfood contact surfaces and not hands or surfaces that will touch food.
Secondly, create your own handwashing station. If you do not have access to running water at your cookout, bring containers (a cooler with a spout, jugs or bottles) of clean water along with soap, paper towels, a bucket for waste water and a trashcan or bag. Use this handwashing station after handling meat, poultry and before handling cooked foods.
Whatever you do, do not cross contaminate. Use clean plates and cooking utensils to take your delicious creations off the grill. Never use the same plate that once held raw meat for foods that are ready to eat. Hall said a good shopping tip is separate raw and ready to eat foods in the shopping cart and in grocery bags.
“Placing meats in plastic bags will help reduce the risk of bacteria getting on other foods that will not be cooked,” Hall said.
Is it ready yet? While hungry bellies may be impatient, it is crucial to fully cook all food. Have a food thermometer available to check the temperature of meats. Also, follow the following guidelines for cooking meats to minimum internal cooking temperatures:
- Poultry (ex. chicken, turkey etc.) – 165˚F
- Ground meats, pork and lamb (ex. hamburgers) – 160˚F
- Fish – 145˚F
- Beef, pork, lamb and veal (ex. steaks, roasts and chops) – 145˚F with a three-minute rest time
Keep it cold or keep it hot. Have separate coolers prepared for hot foods, cold foods and beverages. Be sure to keep cold foods – such as potato salad, pasta salad, salsas and fruit salads – on ice until ready to use. These foods need to stay below 40˚F. Also, once ice has been used for storage, it should never be reused for consumption.
“Do not eat or use the ice used for food or beverage storage,” Hall said.
Pack up the leftovers as soon as possible. Food should not be left out for more than two hours. To ensure the food is kept below 40˚F, you may need additional ice.
Hall’s Memorial Day Favorites
Not only is Hall passionate about food safety for Memorial Day, but also spending it with family, friends and good food. Aside from steaks on the grill, Hall’s favorite cookout vegetable is grilled corn.
Place ears of corn in the husks on the grill and cover. Cook 15 to 20 minutes, making sure to turn every five minutes. Allow the corn to cool, shuck and enjoy.
“It is delicious to lightly cover in avocado oil mayonnaise and grated parmesan cheese,” Hall said. “Another must have for me is grilled pineapple on a slice of my mom’s recipe pound cake with homemade whipping cream.”
Don’t Invite COVID
As society slowly starts to return to normal, people should take measures to ensure that COVID-19 is not invited to their Memorial Day celebration. As always, people should follow the most current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. The CDC website states the following:
“Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”
Spend the holiday safely celebrating, commemorating and sharing thanks. For more information on food safety, visit the Alabama Extension website, www.aces.edu.