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Grilling: Food Safety Basics

Grilling: Food Safety Basics

Hi, everyone! I hope you all are having a great day as I'm writing this. Despite experiencing some cooler temperatures this spring, warmer weather has been teasing us off and on in the Midwest - which means that we can grill our food in the sunshine without wearing a winter coat! And, we can add some oomph to the flavors of meat, produce, and whatever else we're cooking!

Grilling food safety

One of the things that my family and I love about grilling is that it creates that relaxed, festive pool-side vibe. We can feel our shoulders drop around the grill. And the food that comes off the grill is the bomb. So today, in honor of helping you experience as much mental and physical satisfaction as possible from your grilled food during and after your meals, I'm sharing some basic food safety pointers to reduce the chances of developing a foodborne illness - like food poisoning (So not fun). The following suggestions are easy peasy:

Store your food properly: When grocery shopping, select any raw meats and eggs at the very end of your grocery run - for temperature control - and separate them from the other items in the grocery cart. When paying for the groceries, place the raw meats and eggs in separate plastic bags to prevent any juices from contaminating other foods.

Store the foods in your refrigerator below 40°F, and the foods in your freezer - at or below - 0°F. Store packages of raw meats in separate plastic bags on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator to prevent juices from coming into contact with other foods - like produce for example. Check out this handy article for how to safely store meats, eggs, produce, dairy products, and leftovers in the refrigerator.

In addition to referring to the expiration dates on the packages of fresh meats, when keeping your refrigerator below 40°F, a general rule of thumb is that uncooked steaks, chops, and roasts can be refrigerated for 3-5 days - while raw poultry and ground meats can be refrigerated for 1-2 days. Cooked steaks, chops, roasts, poultry, and ground meats can generally be stored for 3-4 days in a refrigerator that's set at below 40°F. For additional refrigerator shelf life recommendations for different foods, you might like this Keep It Cool: Refrigerator/Freezer Food Storage Chart.

Clean and separate: Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after handling food. Sanitize the work area where you'll be doing your food prep, and clean your cutting boards and utensils prior to doing food prep. Separate your cutting boards and utensils for different uses.

Use a designated cutting board for raw meats, and a different cutting board for produce. I like to use color-coded cutting boards for this very purpose. Designate a plate and utensil for raw meats, and a clean plate and clean utensil for cooked meats. Separate ready-made foods from raw meats to avoid cross-contamination.

Toss the used marinade or make an extra amount ahead of time - and reserve it: When marinating raw meats, it's really important to marinate the meat in a refrigerator - storing it in a glass or stainless steel container or a plastic zip-top storage bag. Once it's time to cook the meat, pitch the marinade since it contains harmful bacteria from the raw meats (If using a plastic zip-top storage bag to marinate your meat in, toss that too). If you're hell-bent on re-using that marinade, then it's critical that you boil it to kill the dangerous bacteria. Here's another alternative. As points out, "If you plan to use some of the marinade as sauce for the cooked food, your best bet is to reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat and poultry in it." Here are some additional suggestions for safely marinating your food.

Safely clean the grill: It's recommended that you clean your grill prior to and after grilling food. This can reduce the chances of old food bits - from your previous meal - sticking to the food that you grill next.

If you're using a grill brush, it's important to make sure that it's a good one - versus using one in which the bristles come off easily onto the grill and increase the chances of a bristle sticking to your food. Depending on the manufacturer's instructions, you might be able to use a different tool for cleaning your grill, like a bristle-free brush or aluminum foil that you've rolled into a ball to scrape off the food from the grill. If you prefer to use a grill brush, here's a list of best and worst grill brushes by Consumer Reports. If you're looking for more tips, you can check out this article, "Guard Against Wire Grill Brush Dangers," by Consumer Reports.

Cook foods to the proper temperatures: It's important to cook your food to the proper temperatures to reduce the chances of developing food poisoning. Below are the minimum internal temperature recommendations for the following meats:

  • Fresh poultry - at least 165°F.

  • Ground meats - at least 160°F.

  • Grilled fish and shellfish - at least 145°F

  • Beef, pork, and lamb - at least 145°F (Just make sure you let these meats rest for at least 3 minutes before digging in - they will continue to cook and moisten while resting).

The safest way to identify if foods are cooked properly is to use a food thermometer - versus basing this decision on the appearance, smell, etc. of the food. Here is a great article that explains the differences between a variety of food thermometers, how to properly use the food thermometer, and how to test the temperatures of different cooked foods. In addition to the minimum internal temperature recommendations that I've listed for the foods above, here's a Safe Minimal Internal Temperature Chart that you can use as a guide.

Refrigerate any leftovers quickly: Cool any leftovers in shallow containers, and refrigerate them promptly to avoid the danger zone temperature range of 40°F to 140°F - a range in which bacteria can quickly multiply and contribute to foodborne illnesses. Discard any food that has been sitting out for two or more hours. If your food is being set out in temperatures of 90°F or higher, it's recommended that you refrigerate the food within one hour or less.

The bottom line is that practicing food safety when you're grilling out is really easy and worthwhile - and it can increase the chances of feeling both mentally and physically satisfied during and after your meals. Happy grilling and eating!

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