Warm weather is here and that means picnics, barbecues and all kinds of outdoor entertaining. Each year millions of people head outdoors to enjoy dining and entertaining in the summer weather. And each year millions of people fall ill due to food poisoning, which occurs after consuming foods that are contaminated during preparation. To lower your risk of food-related illnesses, and to lower your risk of ruining your summer fun, follow these practical food safety guidelines.
Focus on cleanliness
- Wash your hands using hot, soapy water before handling food and between touching different types of food.
- Always wash cutting boards, knives, utensils, dishes and countertops used to cut meat with soapy, hot water right away—before you use them for other foods.
- Clean all work surfaces and equipment after each task, especially when handling raw foods.
- Wash fresh produce before preparing or eating.
- Consider using paper towels or disposable wipes to clean up kitchen surfaces.
Thaw Food Wisely
When thawing food, outer sections warm up faster than inner sections, which can cause microorganisms to grow. That is why it is important to follow the correct thawing suggestions below, depending on your method, to prevent the growth of microorganisms:
- In the refrigerator – Thaw food at 41°F or lower to keep harmful microorganisms from growing.
- Under running water – Thaw food at about 70°F or lower.
- In the microwave – Only thaw food in the microwave if the food will be cooked immediately.
- During the cooking process – Some foods can be thawed while cooking, such as frozen hamburger patties on a grill.
To ensure that you are safely preparing food, you should prevent cross-contamination—the transfer of microorganisms from one food or surface to another—and use proper time and temperature control. To avoid cross-contamination, adhere to the following practices:
- Store raw meat, chicken, turkey and seafood in sealed, wrapped containers in the refrigerator.
- Keep raw meat, chicken, turkey and seafood away from foods that will not be cooked and from foods that are already cooked.
- Never place cooked food on a plate or cutting board that previously held raw meat, chicken, turkey or seafood.
- Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw and already prepared/cooked foods.
Cook Food Properly
- Use a food thermometer to make sure meats, chicken, turkey, fish and casseroles are cooked to a safe internal temperature.
- Cook roasts and steaks to at least 145° F.
- Cook ground meat to at least 160° F.
- Cook whole chicken or turkey to 180° F.
- Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm, not runny. Don’t use recipes in which unpasteurized eggs remain raw or only partially cooked.
- Cook fish until it flakes easily with a fork.
Store Food Appropriately
Keeping food at the correct temperature is an important component of food safety. When food is laid out for serving, time spent in the temperature danger zone must be minimized. When being reheated, food must reach the correct temperature in the right amount of time. To properly cool food:
- Control time and temperature: The temperature danger zone is between 41°F and 135°F, because microorganisms that cause foodborne illnesses grow and multiply in this range.
- Divide large quantities of food into small shallow containers for quicker cooling.
- Refrigerate or freeze prepared food and leftovers within two hours.
- Place the food in an ice-water bath and stir frequently.
- Stir food to cool it faster and more evenly.
- To properly reheat food, it must reach an internal temperature of 165°F for at least 15 seconds. If this temperature is not reached within two hours, the food should be discarded.
- Keep your refrigerator at 40° F or below. Don’t pack it too full; cool air needs to circulate.