Bring on the sunshine and fragrant blossoms of spring! Most of us love this time of year and want to jump for joy that the bleak winter days are behind us. One way a lot of folks celebrate the spring and summer months is to host a family barbeque and do a little grilling. And what better way to celebrate than with some tasty food and the ones you love?
But wait just a minute. Before you pull out the meat and whip up your favorite salads, it’s best to take a little time to review (or learn) how to ensure a safe barbeque and grilling experience. The fact is that when the weather warms up, there is a greater risk of getting foodborne illness. Bacteria tend to grow when food is in the “danger zone” or 41-135 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, issues with food safety can occur during the grilling months because it involves a lot of meat. And while meat can be delicious, it can be dangerous if it is not handled properly.
So what are some ways you can make sure your next barbeque is both fun and safe? Here are a few tips:
- Do not take your food out of the refrigerator until it is time to prepare it. Never leave perishable foods out for longer than two hours, or one hour if the temperature is hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Leaving items out at room temperature is just asking for trouble, as bacteria will develop and grow rapidly in this kind of environment.
- Once you begin preparing your meat, prepare it completely. It is safe to partially cook meat in the microwave in order to speed up the grilling process. But you must then immediately grill the meat in order to ensure its safety. If you choose to prepare your meat this way, preheat your grill in advance, so it is hot and ready to go when your meat is.
- Check the temperature of your grilled meat to determine that it is completely cooked. Don’t do it by sight. A thermometer works much better (after all, that’s what it was made for.) According to the USDA, ground beef and pork should reach a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Meats such as lamb and steak should reach 145 F. And poultry should reach a minimum internal temperature of 165 F. Undercooking your meat can lead to foodborne illnesses such as E. coli and Salmonella.
- As always, be aware of potential cross-contamination issues! Use one plate or platter for raw meat. Once the meat is grilled and ready, do not put it back on the same plate unless it has been thoroughly washed. Raw juices can easily make you or your family sick. In addition, it is a good idea to serve meat on a separate platter than other food items such as salads or veggies. Keeping these foods from mixing will ensure the safety of those who eat them.
So as you prepare for your next gathering, make sure you are prepared with enough platters, a thermometer, and plenty of room in your refrigerator. As you prepare and keep these tips in mind, you’ll be ready to have a delicious barbeque. And even more important is the fact that it will be safe for the ones you love most.