I don't know about you, but I am fired up to fire up my grill after the brutal winter we had. Grilling is one of my favorite ways to prepare all types of foods — from the typical burgers, steaks and chicken to fish, vegetables and even fruit. It's a relatively low-fat preparation method, and the high temperatures help bring out delicious flavors (calorie-free) thanks to chemical reactions like caramelization and browning.
But while high temps on the barbecue can have benefits, heat can increase the likelihood of food poisoning. The warmer it gets, the more bacteria multiply. At a certain temperature, they do get destroyed, but sometimes bacteria have produced toxins that are not inactivated by heat. When we leave foods sitting out or fail to cook them properly, we may be setting ourselves up for a night in the bathroom.
Are you doing all you can to prevent food poisoning? Follow these important tips from the USDA to barbecue with the best of them.
From the store
When shopping, buy cold food like meat and poultry last, right before checkout. Separate raw meat and poultry from other food in your shopping cart. To guard against cross-contamination, which can happen when raw meat or poultry juices drip on other food, put packages of raw meat and poultry into plastic bags. Plan to drive directly home from the grocery. You may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables. Always refrigerate perishable food within two hours. Refrigerate within one hour when the temperature is above 90 F.
At home, place meat and poultry in the refrigerator immediately. Freeze poultry and ground meat that won't be used in one or two days; freeze other meat within four to five days.
Completely thaw meat and poultry before grilling so it cooks more evenly. Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing or thaw sealed packages in cold water. For quicker thawing, you can microwave defrost if the food will be placed immediately on the grill.
A marinade is a savory, acidic sauce in which a food is soaked to enrich its flavor or to tenderize it. Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Poultry and cubed meat or stew meat can be marinated up to two days. Beef, veal, pork and lamb roasts, chops and steaks may be marinated up to five days. If some of the marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat and poultry in it. However, if the marinade used on raw meat or poultry is to be reused, make sure to let it come to a boil first to destroy any harmful bacteria.
When carrying food to another location, keep it cold to minimize bacterial growth. Use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 F or below. Pack food right from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home.
Keep cold food cold
Keep meat and poultry refrigerated until ready to use. Only take out the meat and poultry that will immediately be placed on the grill.
When using a cooler, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or shelter. Avoid opening the lid too often, which lets cold air out and warm air in. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in a separate cooler.
Keep everything clean
Be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters. To prevent foodborne illness, don't use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and poultry and their juices can contaminate safely cooked food.
If you're eating away from home, find out if there's a source of clean water. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning. Or pack clean cloths and moist towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.
Precooking food partially in the microwave, oven or stove is a good way of reducing grilling time. Just make sure that the food goes immediately on the preheated grill to complete cooking.
Cook food to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside. Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature: whole poultry, 165 F; poultry breasts, 165 F; ground poultry, 165 F; ground meats, 160 F; beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops), 145 F; and allow to rest at least 3 minutes.
Never partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.
When reheating fully cooked meats like hot dogs, grill to 165 F or until steaming hot.
Keep hot food hot
After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served — at 140 F or warmer.
Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook. At home, the cooked meat can be kept hot in an oven set at approximately 200 F, in a chafing dish or slow cooker, or on a warming tray.
Serving the food
When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter. Don't put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate safely cooked food.
In hot weather (above 90 F), food should never sit out for more than one hour.
Refrigerate any leftovers promptly in shallow containers. Discard any food left out more than two hours (one hour if temperatures are above 90 F).