July/August 1999 - Volume 2 - Issue 6
When the weather turns warm, Americans love to head outdoors. While ideal for picnics and barbecues, warm temperatures also provide an inviting environment for bacteria and other pathogens in food to multiply rapidly and cause food borne illness. That's why people must take special safe food handling precautions especially when preparing perishable foods such as meat, poultry, seafood and eggs.
"Food borne illness peaks during the warmer months," says Susan Conley, U.S. Department of Agriculture food safety expert. "Most of us like to include food in our outdoor activities, but many do not realize that we need to be extra careful to keep that food safe." Practicing safe food handling is very important and it can be relatively easy to Fight BAC!ª and avoid food borne bacteria. Follow these simple steps to reduce the risk of food borne illness.
Clean: Wash Hands and Surfaces Often
Be sure to routinely wash your hands before and after handling food. It is also important to keep work surfaces and cooking instruments extremely clean. To help fight food borne bacteria, wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before moving on to the next food. Use plastic or other non-porous cutting boards. Consider using paper towels when cleaning up surfaces or wash cloth towels frequently.
Separate: Don't Cross-Contaminate
Put raw meat, poultry and seafood into sealed containers or plastic bags so juices will not cross-contaminate safely cooked foods or other items such as fruits and vegetables. Use a separate cutting board when preparing raw meat products. Never place cooked food on the same plate that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood.
Cook: Cook to Proper Temperatures
Cooking time depends on many factors: type of meat; its size and shape; distance of food from the heat; and the temperature of the coals. For these reasons, always use a cooking thermometer. Because meat and poultry cooked on a grill tend to brown very fast on the outside, it's important to be sure that these foods reach a safe internal temperature and are properly cooked all the way through. Hamburgers should be cooked to 160F, while large cuts of beef such as roasts and steaks may be cooked to 145F for medium-rare or to 160F for medium. Cook ground poultry to 165F and poultry parts to 170F. Fish should be opaque and flake easily. Reheat pre-cooked meats until steaming hot.
Chill: Refrigerate Promptly
Keep perishable foods such as meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, cold or frozen until ready to cook. When traveling with food, pack perishables directly from the refrigerator or freezer to the cooler to minimize the threat of bacterial growth. A full cooler will stay colder longer than one that is partially filled, so it is important to pack plenty of extra ice or freezer packs to ensure a constant cold temperature. Consider packing drinks in a separate cooler to avoid opening the food cooler frequently. Food should not sit out for longer than two hours. Reduce that time to one hour on hot days when temperatures climb to over 90F.
For more information on practicing safe food handling and how to fight food borne bacteria, visit www.fightbac.org.