Friday, September 4, 2009

Backyard BBQ & Picnic Food Safety Tips

Many of us are probably planning to host or attend a backyard BBQ or a picnic this Labor Day weekend, so now is a good time as any to review some food safety pointers to reduce the risk of bellyaches (or worse):

*Avoid cross-contamination: Keep raw foods separate from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to prevent contamination during storage, preparation, grilling and serving. Don't return cooked foods to the same container or platter used for raw foods (or make sure you thoroughly wash the platter or container first, using soap and hot water). Likewise, don't handle cooked foods with utensils that touched raw meat, poultry or seafood, unless you first wash the utensils with hot, soapy water. Keep raw meat, poultry & seafood securely wrapped or sealed to prevent any juices from contaminating ready-to-eat foods, beverages, plates or utensils.

*Keep cold foods cold, hot foods hot: Use an insulated cooler with plenty of ice or ice packs for chilled foods, and keep it closed, and ideally out of direct sunlight. Keep hot foods hot either on the grill over indirect heat, or in a heat-insulating cooler (or in the oven at 200F degrees if cooking out at home).

*Use a meat thermometer to ensure proper cooking: Color isn't a reliable indicator of doneness. The only way to be sure that meats and poultry are sufficiently cooked to kill harmful bacteria is to use a meat thermometer. For steaks, roasts and fish, cook to at least 145F degrees. For pork and ground beef, cook to at least 160F degrees (yes, that means no medium rare burgers, sorry!) For chicken and other poultry, including ground turkey or ground chicken, cook to at least 165F degrees. Don't forget to clean your thermometer after using, so that you don't inadvertently contaminate cooked food when checking the temperature!

*When in doubt, throw it out: Don't taste food that looks or smells questionable or "off". It's simply not worth the risk of food poisoning. If you have any uncertainty as to whether something is safe to eat, assume it's not and throw it out.

*Keep clean: Soap and water (especially hot) are your best friends. Do as much food prep as possible indoors where you can wash your hands, cutting surfaces and utensils frequently. If planning a picnic, find out ahead of time if there will be potable water available for washing hands, etc., and if so, bring along soap. If water won't be available, bring wet disposable towelettes for hands, and sanitizing wipes for non-eating surfaces (e.g., tables and vinyl table cloths). I also bring at least a couple of gallon jugs of water (I save and wash old milk jugs for this purpose) to wash serving dishes and utensils as necessary. Bring plenty of clean plates and utensils, and paper towels or clean cloths for drying. Before eating or processing raw fruits or vegetables, rinse under running water and wipe dry with a clean paper towel or cloth.

Following these simple precautions will help everyone stay healthy while enjoying a backyard cookout or picnic this Labor Day weekend.

Zestfully yours,
Carolina Sauce Company

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