Grilling can add great flavor to foods, but may also put you and your family at risk for food-borne illness. How do you know when your food is done cooking? Did you know the color might not be the best indicator? There are some particular high-risk foods to watch out for. Be on the lookout and follow these seven tips to avoid food-borne illnesses at your next cookout.
1. Wash your hands. You need to wash hands before preparation and may again during cooking if hands become contaminated, such as from touching raw meat. For more information read these tips.
2. Defrost meats appropriately. Leaving meat out on counter tops is not recommended. On the counter, the meat could reach an unsafe temperature that promotes bacteria growth. Defrost meat in the refrigerator overnight before use or so under cold running water. You may also use a microwave. Read here about how to do this properly.
3. Wash produce before use. Washing the outside of produce such as melons can prevent any bacteria on the outside from getting inside as you cut a knife through it.
4. Don’t hesitate to separate! Raw and cooked foods should be kept separate. As your hot dogs and burgers get done on the grill, be sure to use clean utensils to get them off the grill and onto a clean, new plate.
5. Is it done? Using a food thermometer is the best way to tell if your food is cooked to a safe internal temperature. To correctly use a food thermometer, place it in the thickest part of the food without touching bone, fat or the cooking surface. Cook to the follow inf temperatures below to help kill off food-borne illnesses: Beef, veal, lamb and poultry to 165ºF, ground meats to 160ºF and pork and fish to 145F.
View this temperature chart as another resource.
6. Watch the clock. Food should not be left out for more than 2 hours, and if the weather is hot (over 90ºF), it may become unsafe to eat in even less time. Chill any leftovers as soon as possible. Eating outdoors is fun but you want to keep foods safe in the heat.
7. Keep your food prep, cooking, and storage area clean. Wipe down your areas before you and after you prepare your meals. Don’t give bacteria an opportunity to grow on spills and drippings that linger on your counter tops or cutting boards. Also keep your cooler clean.
And remember: when in doubt, throw it out! Your dietitian can also provide more information on food safety tips. VA dietitians also offer healthy teaching kitchen classes where you can sharpen those cooking skills and learn about nutrition. Watch a demonstration here. Call your local VA or ask your PACT provider about seeing a dietitian today.
Michaela Stemle is a 2017-2018 dietetic intern at the Memphis Veterans Affairs Medical Center. She completed her dietetics coursework at Indiana University and enjoys cooking, the outdoors and watching HGTV in her free time.