By Haley Pierce, Manager, FMI Foundation, FMI
Hotdogs, barbeque, baked beans, grilled corn, vegetable skewers, coleslaw, berries, melons, pasta and potato salad are all foods we enjoy in the summer for meals with friends and family.
You’re already buying quality ingredients—you’ll want to be aware of not only how best to combine them, but what steps you can take in food preparation to ensure your family and friends stay safe.
The first step? Washing your hands.
According to a recent study conducted by the USDA, consumers don’t properly wash their hands before preparing meals and after handling uncooked meat and poultry. To follow food safety best practices, be sure to wet your hands, lather with soap, wash for 20 seconds, rinse, and dry. If water isn’t available, hand sanitizer or disposable wipes with at least 60% alcohol content will work. (Consider biodegradable soap for a cleaner and greener alternative!)
You’ll also want to ensure the cooking area is sanitized before preparing food to avoid cross-contamination.
If you plan to go hiking or camping, to your neighborhood barbeque, or to your family meals-style cookout this season, be sure to remember the Core Four Practices for Food Safety—Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill. Here are few more tips to help ensure a family fun, food safe event:
Start with a Safe Recipe that focuses on the main areas of food safety risk in homes: temperature, handwashing, cross-contamination and produce handling. Research shows that recipes with food safety instructions help improve consumer food safety behaviors.
Before heading to the grill, rinse all fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water before preparing. Fruits and vegetables with skins and rinds that are not eaten also need to be washed. You do not need to use soap to clean fruits and vegetables, so save the water for next time.
Remember this rule of two: bring two coolers—one for snacks and drinks and one for perishables; also, bring two cutting boards—one for raw ingredients and one for fresh produce and cooked food.
Pack foods in your cooler in reverse-use order – pack foods first that you are likely to use last. Pack plenty of ice or freezer packs to ensure a consistent chill.
Keep cross contaminants at bay: make sure to keep raw food separate from cooked foods and fresh produce by double-wrapping or placing packages in leakproof bags or containers.
Keep cold foods cold! Cold foods should stay at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. If you are on the road to your next adventure, keep items nestled within ice or ice packs in your cooler until needed.
Always thaw food in the refrigerator or under cold, running water. Use the same tips for marinades: always marinade food in the refrigerator and be sure to throw out marinades and sauces that have touched raw meat juices, which can spread germs to cooked foods.
If you’re the grill master of the family, you’ll want to use a moist cloth or paper towel to clean the grill surface before cooking. If utilizing a bristle brush, make sure no brush fibers remain on the grill before cooking. Your guests might not appreciate eating their burgers and a surprise emergency room visit. In fact, between 2002 and 2014, 1700 Americans ingested grill brush fibers and one in four had to be admitted into the hospital. Scary stuff, but preventable with the right food safety steps.
Make sure to cook food to a safe internal temperature. Food thermometers are your bread and butter (hold the pickles) for grilling food safely. Be sure to insert the thermometer through the side at the thickest part of the meat and check the temperature in several places to make sure food is cooked throughout. Grilled foods should stay on or above 140º F. Smoked foods must be kept at 250 to 300 º F. Warming trays, ovens, slow cookers, and grills are all your friends in preparing your best meals. Never partially grill an item to finish cooking later—this allows bacteria to grow.
Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. Be sure to have plenty of clean utensils and platters on hand.
Grilled food can be kept hot until serving by moving it to the side of the grill rack, just away from the coals to avoid overcooking.
Don’t let perishable food sit out for more than two hours. On a hot day (90º F or higher), reduce this time to one hour.
Have leftovers? Refrigerate promptly! Divide leftovers between small, shallow containers for quicker cooling, label cooked foods with their preparation dates, and store in refrigerator at 40°F or below. Make sure that all leftovers are eaten within three to four days. Remember to send guests on their way with a plate or two, to help with food waste and so you don’t overfill your refrigerator or freezer.
You can rest assured with these tips, you’re on your way to enjoying family meals with whomever you define as family without compromising food safety or quality.