One of the more popular food items for summer grilling is ribs slathered in barbecue sauce slowly simmering over a grill. As people gather their traditional Fourth of July grilling goodies, it's important to remember basic food safety practices to avoid potential sickness from food borne illnesses.
It’s a Fourth of July tradition shared by countless numbers of Americans that as the fireworks pop and shimmer above, the slow simmering barbecue crackles and sizzles below. But even the most seasoned grill masters can accidentally turn holiday fun into a food-safety nightmare.
Side-lining people from festivities with stomach aches, nausea and diarrhea, food-borne illnesses can derive from a simple lack of attentiveness. So while the only thing hotter than the scorching temperatures outside is the grill surface itself, holiday heat can prove to be both a help and hindrance in frying away food poisoning at people’s Independence Day picnics.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, bacteria in foods multiply faster when temperatures range from 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s important to thoroughly cook the interior of meats to their proper temperatures and keep foods safely refrigerated until they’re needed.
The FDA recommends cooking common holiday favorites to certain minimum temperatures, such as cooking poultry to 165 degrees; ground meats or meat mixtures to 160 degrees; and beef, pork, lamb and veal to a minimum 145 degrees.
Patrick Fletcher, culinary arts program coordinator at West Kentucky Community & Technical College, suggested using a simple meat thermometer as a way to ensure meats make the mark without fear of under cooking and leaving harmful bacteria.
Though as much concern is placed on the lack of heat, so too can concern be placed on the lack of refrigeration.
“My rule of thumb for marinating meat is to let it sit outside for only 30 to 40 minutes before hand,” Fletcher said. “A lot of people think when you marinate something you can leave it out, but it should be in refrigeration to prevent the spread of bacteria.”
Sandra Farthing, a registered dietitian at Lourdes hospital, said many times people don’t think twice about leaving their side dishes of beans, salads and pastas out during a picnic, which can also lead to the buildup of germs.
“If you’re in this heat with something that needs to be refrigerated, we’ll have a big bowl of ice to set those things inside to keep them more at a proper temperature,” she said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service suggested four steps to prevent food borne illnesses: clean, separate, cook and chill.
In addition to adequately cooking and chilling foods, the USDA recommended keeping hands and surfaces clean in between handling food items. Washing hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds will help cut on the spread of germs.
Raw meats and their juices should also be kept separate from other foods, and platters should be cleaned after raw meats come into contact. Fletcher suggested keeping meats in a plastic bag or the container it’s purchased in, both of which are disposable.
For those people that might have questions about their grilling, people can visit the USDA’s virtual food safety representative at www.askkaren.gov or can contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline, 10-4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Call Will Pinkston, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.