Practice good food safety at your cookout or picnic

Published 5:52 pm Thursday, June 29, 2017

This weekend and on the Independence Day holiday on Tuesday many people will celebrate with cookouts and family gatherings involving food and experts are reminding them to practice good food safety habits.

“We all look forward to summer cookouts and covered dish picnics, but it’s wise to be especially careful not to make food safety mistakes that could lead to food poisoning,” said Vickie Clark, Director of the UT Extension Office for Carter County and also the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent for the Extension.

One of the more common mistakes made during cookouts or picnics is not maintaining proper food temperature. Bacteria can multiply rapidly in perishable foods if they sit out for too long.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“It’s the two-hour rule,” Clark said. “Nothing should be left out at room temperature for more than two hours.”

If it’s an outdoor event and it’s a hot day, over 90 degrees, Clark said food should only be out of refrigeration for one hour.

If you don’t have access to a refrigerator at your cookout or picnic site, make sure you have plenty of ice and a cooler to store foods. “Don’t keep leftovers unless your cooler has enough ice left to store them in,” Clark said. “Otherwise, throw the food out.”

Another tip Clark recommends if you are transporting food somewhere is to keep the cooler with the food in the air-conditioned part of the vehicle instead of in the hot trunk.

Other tips for ensuring good food safety to reduce the risk of food-borne illness are:

• Keep Foods Separate — Keep wrapped raw meat and poultry separate from cooked foods, fruits, and vegetables. For example, don’t slice up the watermelon on the same cutting board that just held pre-cooked burgers. You don’t want any pathogens that might be hanging out on the meat to contaminate ready-to-eat foods.

• Use A Food Thermometer — When cooking that meat and poultry, use a food thermometer. Many people use color, firmness, clear juices or shrinkage to indicate doneness, but visual cues can’t tell you for sure whether the minimum internal temperatures needed to kill pathogens have been reached. If you don’t own a food thermometer yet, many food safety experts recommend a digital one over a dial. The target temperatures to remember are 165 degrees for poultry, casseroles, and leftovers. Ground meats and egg dishes need to be cooked to at least 160 degrees. Fresh beef, pork, veal, lamb, and ham should reach 145 degrees and then rest for at least three minutes. Fish should also be cooked to 145 degrees.

• Don’t Taste Food To See If It’s Still Good — You can’t taste (or smell or see) the bacteria that cause food poisoning. Tasting even a tiny amount can cause serious illness. Throw food out before harmful bacteria grows. Don’t keep leftovers more than 3-4 days.

• Don’t Put Cooked Meat Back On A Plate That Held Raw Meat — Germs from the raw meat can spread to the cooked meat. Always use separate plates for raw meat and cooked meat. The same rule applies to poultry and seafood.

• Don’t Thaw Foods On The Counter — Harmful germs can multiply extremely rapidly at room temperature. Safely thaw food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave.

• Washing Meat or Poultry — Washing raw meat or poultry can spread bacteria to your sink, countertops, and other surfaces in your kitchen. Don’t wash meat, poultry, or eggs.

• Don’t Eat Raw Dough, Cookie Dough, or Other Food With Uncooked Eggs or Uncooked Flour — Raw dough and uncooked eggs may contain E. coli, Salmonella or other harmful bacteria. When it comes to some germs, such as Salmonella, all it takes is 15 to 20 cells in undercooked food to cause food poisoning.

• Don’t Marinate Meat or Seafood On The Counter — Germs can multiply at room temperature so safely marinate meat or seafood in the refrigerator.

• Don’t Use Raw Meat Marinade On Cooked Food — Germs from the raw meat (or seafood) can spread to the cooked food. Use fresh marinade if you want to reapply after food is cooked. You can reuse marinade only if you bring it to a boil just before using.

• Avoid Undercooking — Undercooking meat, poultry, seafood or eggs can be dangerous. Cooked food is safe only after it’s been cooked to a high enough temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Use a food thermometer to ensure the proper temperature is reached.

• Wash Your Hands — Germs on your hands can contaminate the food that you or others eat. Wash hands the right way — for 20 seconds with soap and running water.