Few things bring people together like a great barbecue. As the spring progresses and we get into summer, this often means much more outdoor cooking and more barbecues for your friends and family. One thing you may not know is that according to the CDC, food poisoning peaks during the summer months. This is because foodborne germs flourish in the warmer temperatures.
The last thing you want to do when you are showing off your barbecue skills is to risk your health and the health of your friends and family. This is easily avoided by following some important grilling food safety precautions and avoiding improperly cooked food and cross-contamination.
In this article, we’ll cover some essential smoking and grilling food safety tips every outdoor cook should follow each and every time you cook. No matter what time of the year you are cooking.
When you are shopping, make sure to pick up your meat, poultry, and seafood last. Bacteria start to multiply very quickly when meats and seafood reach room temperature. So, pick up your dry goods and produce first and make the meat or seafood counter your last stop. This will help keep your items cold until ready to cook.
You also want to make sure that you keep your meats and seafood separate from other foods while shopping and make sure they are bagged separately. This will help prevent cross-contamination, a very important thing to keep in mind when it comes to food safety. Cross-contamination occurs when the juices from raw meat and seafood come in contact with ready to eat or cooked food.
Before handling raw meat and seafood it is very important to wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for a minimum of 20 seconds. This will eliminate any bacteria that may be on your hands.
Always wash your hands directly after handling raw meat or seafood also. Especially before touching any other surfaces or food products. This may mean you are washing your hands multiple times before your food ends up on the grill.
Another option is to use rubber or latex gloves when handling raw meat. When the meat is on the grill and you’re ready to take the gloves off, pull them off from the cuffs inside out to avoid contaminating your hands.
Before putting anything on to cook, you want to make sure you check your grill and clean it as necessary. Once your grill has started to preheat you can use a moist cloth or paper towel to clean off any remaining food particles. If you use a wire grill brush, check to make sure that there are no wire bristles stuck on the grill surface that could stick to your food.
Another way to avoid cross-contamination is to clean your utensils, cutting boards, plates, and workspace after coming in contact with raw meat or seafood. A bleach solution works best to clean and sanitize everything that can’t go in the dishwasher.
When cutting boards start to get worn and get deep cuts, you can quickly encounter a problem with bacteria hiding in the cuts even after cleaning. If your board gets a lot of deep cuts and gouges it is time to replace it. Or if it is wood, sand it down to a smooth surface again.
To avoid cross-contamination, never use the same plate, cutting board, and utensils to handle cooked meat as you did for the raw meat. Unless, of course, they have been cleaned before reusing.
So, as mentioned above, as soon as you get your meat on the grill make sure to clean everything that touched the raw meat before reusing. Or have an extra set of everything ready to use for the cooked food.
One of the quickest ways for a person to get food poisoning is to eat undercooked food. That is why it is so important to use a good-quality thermometer when doing your outdoor cooking to make sure you cook everything thoroughly and the meat has reached safe internal temperatures.
Keeping the internal temperature of your grill or smoker between 225 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit will allow you to properly reach the recommended internal temperature for the meat. Safe internal temperatures, as outlined by the USDA, are:
As you can see, maintaining proper food temperatures is very important when it comes to avoiding foodborne bacteria. This applies to both keeping cold food cold and hot food hot.
You never want to leave cold food out longer than 2 hours (1 hour if the outside temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more.) Make sure these items are refrigerated or placed on ice as soon as possible. This applies to your cold raw meat, poultry, and seafood before cooking, perishable side items, and leftovers after the meal.
After you have cooked your meats and seafood, it is important to keep those items hot until served. This can be done by setting the meat to the side of the grill rack away from direct heat, wrapped in aluminum foil and then towels and placed in a warmed cooler, or in the oven inside at a temperature setting of 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Some of the grilling food safety tips above are things that are often overlooked by many outdoor cooks. Food safety is all about properly cooking food, keeping everything you use for smoking and grilling clean, and avoiding cross-contamination.
As you can see, following these measures we covered each and every time you are smoking and grilling will ensure you are cooking as safe as possible and keeping everyone healthy.
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