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Prevention of Food-borne Illness from Outdoor Cooking

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), an increasing number of people, including myself, say they cook outdoors year round.

But whether we’re cooking under the warm September sun or during a December snowfall, we need to follow food-safety guidelines to prevent food-borne illness. The USDA offers this advice:

  • When you buy meat and poultry, take it directly home from the supermarket. When you get home, refrigerate it immediately. Poultry or ground meat that won’t be used within one or two days should be frozen. Other meat should be frozen within four to five days.
  • Meat and poultry should be completely defrosted before it’s grilled so that it cooks evenly. Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing or thaw sealed packages of meat and poultry in cold water. You can use a microwave to defrost meat and poultry if the meat will be placed immediately on the grill.
  • When you marinate meat and poultry, do it in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter. If you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce, set aside a portion of the marinade before you put raw meat or poultry in it. If you plan to re-use marinade that’s been used on meat or poultry, boil the marinade to destroy any harmful bacteria.
  • When you’re transporting food, make sure to use an insulated cooler with enough ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler. Pack food directly from the refrigerator into the cooler just before you leave home.
  • When using a cooler, keep it out of direct sunlight. Avoid opening the lid too often. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishable food in another cooler.
  • Meat and poultry must be kept refrigerated until it’s ready to cook. Only take out amounts that will immediately be placed on the grill.
  • Have a good supply of clean utensils and platters. Don’t use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria in raw meat and poultry can contaminate cooked food.
  • If you’re away from home, find out if there’s a source of clean water. If not, bring water from home for food preparation and cleaning. Or pack clean cloths and wet towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.
  • You can partially pre-cook food in a microwave, oven or stove to reduce grilling time. But be sure the food goes immediately on the preheated grill to complete cooking.
  • Meat and poultry needs to be cooked to a minimum internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Use a food thermometer to check. Beef, veal, lamb steaks, roasts and chops should be at least 145 degrees F. Hamburgers made of ground beef and all cuts of pork should be 160 degrees F. All poultry should be 165 degrees F. Never partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.
  • When reheating fully cooked meats, such as hot dogs, grill to 165 degrees Fahrenheit or until steaming hot.
  • Keep hot food hot — at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit or more — until it’s served.
  • Leftovers should be promptly refrigerated. Throw out any food left out longer than two hours (one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit).