June 30, 2004
Chef offers tips for safe July 4th cookout
By Lauren Fairburn
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Before lighting up the grill or packing a picnic this Independence Day, Methodist Rehabilitation Center urges families to think first about safe outdoor cooking and to follow proper cooking guidelines to assure food is properly thawed, fully cooked and bacteria free.
“Handling food properly, frequently washing hands and sanitizing utensils and platters is very important in maintaining food safety,” said John Pelton, director of nutrition services at Methodist. “Keep hot food hot and cold food cold and when in doubt, throw it out.”
He says that there are also other safety concerns such as keeping food cold when transporting it to the cookout site and making sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters for handling raw and fully cooked meat and poultry.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends thawing the meat or poultry in the refrigerator and never on a countertop. The outer section of the meat will thaw faster than the inside and will be exposed to temperatures in the danger zone, a temperature range between 40 °F to 140 °F that is favorable for bacteria growth such as E-coli and salmonella.
“Use an insulated cooler packed with adequate ice to transport the meat,” said Pelton. “Once you reach your cookout location, keep the meat insulated until ready to place it on the grill.”
Pelton’s tips for safe summer grilling include:
- Always clean and heat the grill before using it to remove debris and burn off bacteria.
- Keep the grill away from low-hanging tree branches.
- Keep food in the refrigerator until ready to be placed on the grill.
- Make sure your clothing doesn't hang over the grill by rolling up your sleeves and tucking in your shirt.
- When lighting a gas grill, always keep the lid open.
- Always follow the manufacturer's instructions that accompany the grill.
- Cook chicken breasts to 170 degrees Fahrenheit, hamburgers to 160 degrees F and beef to at least 145 degrees F.
- Don't put cooked food on the same plate that held raw food.
“People should always remember the two-hour rule when storing leftovers,” said Pelton. “Refrigerate all leftovers in containers within two hours of cooking because bacteria will multiply rapidly if left out for too long.”
Pelton recommends using marinades to keep the meat tender and to enhance the flavor.
“If you want to use the marinade as a table sauce, put some aside before placing the raw meat in the marinade,” Pelton said.
He adds that grilling is not just for meat and poultry and can be very healthy.
“Cooking fruits and vegetables on the grill gives added flavor without the fat,” said Pelton. “Just add a brush of olive oil or herbs to foods like squash, eggplant, pineapples and sweet onions and grill until tender.