It's summertime — that means barbecue time — and an increase in foodborne illnesses as well. Each summer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and USDA, food safety-related illnesses increase over 150 percent.
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Here are my simple tips to make sure that every summer BBQ — at the beach, picnic or in your own backyard — is a safe one:
1. Pack your foods carefully
Use an insulated cooler with ice packs. If you prefer a picnic basket, make sure you first line the basket with a plastic bag to help retain the cool temperature. Freeze juice boxes; kids and adults love them and they also are terrific temperature controllers. Intermingle them with your foods and they will help keep your foods cold. Either way, be sure to pack a refrigerator thermometer to check the temperature. You'll be surprised to see just how quickly the temperature changes — and that means the foods' temperature as well. Be sure to keep your cooler and all foods in the passenger compartment of your car and out of direct sunlight. Most trunks are not air cooled and can raise the temperature of your foods to well over 100 degrees.
2. Wrap your foods properly and don't cross contaminate
Use plastic Tupperware-style containers or ZipLoc bags to separate foods and securely seal them. Avoid paper bags, aluminum foil or plastic wrap where the foods can leak and cross contaminate other foods. Never put raw and cooked foods of any kind together — or even on the same plates. If you are using a marinade, never use the leftover sauce on cooked meats. You run the risk of spreading the bacteria from the raw meats (and brush) to the cooked meat.
3. Wash, wash, wash
Wash your hands thoroughly with hot soapy water before cooking, handling raw foods and before handling cooked foods. Cross contamination is one of the biggest sources of food safety problems, and careful washing can help prevent those problems. If you are not near running water you can use a waterless cleaner, like Purell, that kills germs and bacteria instantly. Also, fill a spray bottle with water and one tablespoon of bleach to keep handy to wipe off surfaces and utensils. Wipe dry with a heavy-duty paper towel and throw those germs away. Don't use cloth towels that help germs breed and multiply.
4. Make it hot!
Make sure that all meats are cooked thoroughly. And be sure your grill is hot before you cook. Electric grills should be heated at least 15 minutes prior to cooking and gas grills at least 10 minutes. Don't rely on a visual image, thinking that meats that are brown are thoroughly cooked. Use a meat thermometer to test temperatures: Ground beef should be cooked to 160 F, steaks and roasts to 150 F, poultry to 180 F. If you are grilling fish, make sure it is cooked thoroughly and be especially careful with shellfish.
5. Make it cold!
Refrigerate leftovers as soon as you can, ideally no more than one hour after cooking, especially when it's warm outside.
Enjoy summertime eating and remember that you can eliminate most food safety hazards just by practicing these simple tips.
Phil Lempert is food editor of the TODAY show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at SuperMarketGuru.com.
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