Cooking outdoors is a summer activity many people enjoy. Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer barbecue or grilling season. So, since the season has started it is a good idea to review the food safety guidelines to prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying and causing foodborne illness when cooking outdoors. Use these simple guidelines for grilling food safely.
When shopping choose cold food like meat and poultry last, right before checking out. Watch for cross-contamination which happens when raw meat or poultry juices drip on other food by separating raw meat and poultry from other food in your shopping cart. Put packages of raw meat and poultry into plastic bags. Plan to go directly home from the grocery store. You may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables if it will take some time to get home. Always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours and within 1 hour when the temperature is above 90°F.
At home, place meat and poultry in the refrigerator immediately. Freeze poultry and ground meat that will not be used in 1 or 2 days; freeze other meat within 4 to 5 days. Thaw meat and poultry before grilling so it cooks more evenly. Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing or thaw sealed packages in cold water. For quicker thawing, you can microwave defrost if the food will be cooked immediately.
A marinade is a savory, acidic sauce in which a food is soaked to enrich its flavor or to tenderize it. Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. If some of the marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion of the marinade before putting the raw meat and poultry in it.
When taking food to another location, keep it cold to minimize bacterial growth. Use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40°F or below. Pack food directly from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home. Only take meat and poultry out of the refrigerator or cooler immediately before placing it on the grill. When using a cooler, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or shelter. Avoid opening the lid too often, which lets cold air out and warm air in. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in a separate cooler.
To prevent foodborne illness, do not use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and poultry and their juices can contaminate safely cooked food. If you are eating away from home, find out if there is a source of clean water. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning. Or pack clean cloths, and disposable wipes for cleaning surfaces and hands.
Enjoy eating the food you cook outside this summer with family and friends by following these food safety tips.
For more information, contact your local Nebraska Extension Office or on the web at: food.unl.edu Nebraska Extension In Our Grit, Our Glory.