Now that it’s summer, Montanans will be hosting backyard cookouts and picnics in the park. We will camp and grill our favorite foods while gathered around a campfire.
Warm weather provides the right environment for harmful germs to grow in foods and cause illnesses. For this reason, foods should be kept out of the temperature danger zone – the range between 41 degrees and 135 degrees Fahrenheit, where the most rapid bacterial growth occurs.
When preparing food items at home, cool them rapidly under refrigeration before taking to an event. For transport, start by packing cold items in a clean cooler with ice or gel packs, to keep cold foods below 41 degrees. Be sure that items remain in the cooler until right before cooking or serving.
The more hands that touch food, the greater the possibility of contamination. Always start with clean hands. Never prepare foods or allow loved ones to eat with unwashed hands. Dirty hands can transfer harmful germs directly into the food.
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Before handling any food, wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. If running water is not available, carry a water jug, soap and paper towels to the site with you. As an alternative, bring disposable wipes and a container of hand sanitizer.
No matter what the event is, always do as much food preparation in the kitchen as possible. Slicing or mixing ingredients outdoors can lead to an increased risk of contamination from dirt, flies or other pests.
When transporting foods, use one cooler for all raw proteins such as meat, fish and poultry. Use additional coolers for items such as condiments, salads and produce. If you must use only one cooler, then store raw proteins separately in zip lock bags and pack into tightly covered containers. This will help stop the raw meat juices from accidentally getting into your other foods.
If you choose to use a marinade, be sure to marinate foods in the refrigerator and not on the counter at room temperature. If some of the marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat or poultry into it. Marinades and sauces that have touched raw meat can spread harmful germs to cooked foods.
When it’s time to cook, be sure to have a thermometer ready. Proper cooking kills harmful germs that may be in the raw meat, making it safe to eat. Because grilled meat turns brown quickly, it may appear done but be undercooked inside. Always use a thermometer to be sure safe temperatures have been reached.
• Steaks, pork and fish must be cooked to 145°F.
• Hamburgers and other ground beef must reach 155°F internal temperature.
• Poultry and wild game must reach 165°F.
When these meats are cooked to the correct temperatures, the risk for illnesses from salmonella and E. coli bacteria can be avoided.
After proper cooking, keep items hot until served. This can be handled by setting grilled meats to the side of the grill rack or by placing in roasters when electricity is available.
Finally, refrigerate leftovers within two hours of taking them off the grill if the outside air temperature is below 90F. Refrigerator your leftovers within one hour, if the temperature is above 90F.
By practicing these simple, but effective, food safety precautions, you’ll be ensuring happier summer memories.
Clark Snyder, a registered sanitarian with RiverStone Health, can be reached at 406-256-2770.