You’ve lit the barbeque, prepared the meat, and invited all of your family and friends for a grilled feast — the highlight of the summer. But be careful: You might have invited more guests than you thought.
Ground meat must be cooked to a higher internal temp (160 degrees) than steak.
Summer is the peak season for food-borne illnesses, which strike down over 76 million people a year, according statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. A CDC report which took place in 2004 found nearly half of all reported E. Coli and salmonella cases took place between July and September.
To make sure you only send guests home with appetizing leftovers and not food poisoning, follow these simple guidelines from the food safety experts:
Preparing the meat
The first important lesson: Hot foods must stay hot (above 140F, 60C), and cold foods must stay cold (below 40F, 4.4C), says Kathleen L. D’Ovidio, Ph.D., assistant professor of food science at the Food Science and Management Department at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Any temperature in between these points is a danger zone where bacteria, including salmonella, E. Coli, and Campylobacter just love to breed.
Always follow this rule especially when you are thawing and marinating meat. Keep meat in the fridge, not on the kitchen side. Also, place your meat in a dish with sides to stop the juices dripping on other things such as produce, says J Anderson, a nutrition and food science professor at Utah State University.
Any marinade that touches raw meat should be treated just like raw meat, Anderson says. Add the final touches of flavor with a sauce that hasn’t been yet used, or if you must use the marinade, boil it for at least a minute before spreading it on cooked meat, this will ensure that bacteria is killed.
Before you even start to cook, fill your kitchen sink with hot, soapy water, Anderson says. This way dirty dishes, trays and utensils go straight into the sink, and you are not tempted to re-use them. You should ideally have a cloth and antibacterial spray ready for sanitizing any area that raw food touches.
If you’re enjoying an outdoor grill at a beach or park where you don’t have immediate access to fresh running water, bring a water jug, soap, and paper towels, D’Ovidio says. Disposable towels and antibacterial spray or gel work in an instant, but they are not as effective as soap and water.
While you cook
The Internal cooking temperature of the meat is the key to grilling safely, Anderson says, and it is crucial to always use a meat thermometer. “Just looking at the outside of the meat or cutting it open does not tell you enough. You might as well just guess!”
Ground meat must always be cooked to a higher internal temp (160F, 71C) than steak because microorganisms have been introduced to the inside of the food and are no longer just confined to the surface, D’Ovidio says. And contrary to a popular belief, hot dogs should always be cooked to kill a certain bacteria called Listeria, this is one bug you don’t want around.
Always grill over a medium heat, Anderson says. Too high a heat will burn the outside of the meat and make you think the inside is properly cooked before it actually is. When you are through cooking, don’t put cooked food on plates or trays that held raw food as the bacteria on these will be rife. This is one of the biggest mistakes that home grillers make.
Never leave food out for longer than two hours. “If it stays out longer than that, you have to dispose of it,” D’Ovidio says. “If the outside temp is hotter than 90F (32C), don’t let food sit out for more than 1 hour.”
Serve food in small amounts, keeping the rest in the fridge or cooler. Other perishables such as mayonnaise, potato salad, or chicken salad should be kept in big bowls of ice to maintain a low temperature.
And finally, when you are ready to store leftovers in the fridge, place small pieces in a single layer in a shallow container, this way they will cool down as quickly as possible.