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Outdoor Cooking Season Has Returned — So Fire Up the Grill Safely This Season

It is finally that time of year when we can be spending more time outdoors. With that comes cook-outs with family and friends. But, the worse thing we can do is send our guests home with a foodborne illness. Unfortunately, the incidence of food borne illness increases quite a bit over the summer months. So, what can we do to prevent that from happening in our own backyard?

The first step begins when you are at the grocery store choosing your foods. Check your recall list to make sure none of the foods you are choosing are on it. Most stores do an excellent job at pulling them off the shelf but keep an eye out as you may have already purchased the item and it is waiting to be prepared. Preparing the food correctly by cooking it to the correct temperature will usually kill most foodborne germs. But, if it is recalled for excess amounts of germs, why take the chance. Take it back to the store or throw it out! The other thing to consider while shopping is keeping raw meat, poultry and seafood separated from everything else. Use the bags that are available at the meat counters. Prevent it from touching the other foods when in the cart. When checking out remind the baggers to keep it separated when packing the groceries. If you have a long ride home, pack your meat and other perishables in a cooler with ice. This will again help prevent the increase in foodborne germs. Finally, when you are home, refrigerate the perishable foods immediately. If you are not going to use the meat within just a few days, freeze it!

The second thing to consider when cooking out is keeping everything clean. Start with your hands. You may have been working or playing outside all day touching all sorts of surfaces. To keep your foods germ free wash your hands with soap and water. If you are somewhere water is not available, take it with you and make sure you use soap. You also want to make sure that all surfaces are clean. Use disinfectant wipes or a spray bottle with a tablespoon of bleach and water solution. Spray the surface and wait for it to dry. Make sure the grill is clean before you use it. It is best to use a moist cloth or paper towel when cleaning the grill surface. Wire bristles can stick to the grill and then transfer to the food being cooked. The bristles may be so small that you cannot see them. The bristles can cause serious injury to the GI system or death if ingested. If you do use a brush to clean the grill a tip would be to use the cut side of half an onion to coat the grates. This will help to remove any of the bristles and will also add sulfuric acid to the grates, which helps stop bacteria from growing on the grill. But it’s best to look for a grill brush that is brass or has food grade stainless steel bristles.

Finally, make sure your meat is safe when you cook it. Always cook to the correct temperature. This is one sure way to kill any of the germs that are present in the meat.

145 degrees for beef, pork, lamb, veal and fish

160 degrees for hamburgers and other ground meat

165 degrees for all poultry

It is also important to never use the same plate for raw meats and the cooked meat. Make sure you have a new plate to put the meat on after it is cooked. Also, discard any marinade that you may have used on the raw meat. Use or make a new batch when applying while cooking or putting on the cooked food.

Following all these recommendations will help ensure you have a happy healthy picnic with your family and friends. One last tip is to put the food back in the refrigerator immediately after you eat. Food should never sit out for longer than two hours. If you get busy enjoying the day, it is best to be safe and throw it out. Happy Grilling!

Cheryl Kaczor is an assistant professor for West Virginia University Extension Services and is a families and health agent in Marshall County. She has a master’s degree in community health promotion from WVU and a bachelor’s degree in home economics from Rutgers University.

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