Summer not only symbolizes school breaks and hot weather, but outdoor cooking. Warm weather almost dictates taking the cooking outside for a number of reasons: its fun, it tastes good, clean up is easy, and it’s a fun way to entertain. Many do not realize cooking outdoors is a recipe for sickness if you don’t follow a few basic food safety guidelines.
When cooking outdoors, be sure to keep raw or cooked meat, fish, poultry, and seafood refrigerated. These items should not be at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. If the temperature outside is 90°F or higher, than that time is reduced to one hour. The reason for this is that bacteria like warm environments, particularly between 40°F and 135°F. In this temperature range it will multiply quickly, and when we eat food that has been sitting out for longer than 2 hours (or 1 hour), it can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Keeping cold foods cold (below 41°F) and hot foods hot (above 135°F) prevents bacteria from growing to levels that can cause illness.
Another tip in safe outdoor cooking is to choose meat, poultry, fish or seafood that is fresh and has the highest quality. After purchasing meat products, store in the refrigerator as soon as possible. If you live farther than 30 minutes from the store, put the meat in a cooler and store it in the backseat of your car, not the trunk. Use these meat products quickly after purchase, either by cooking or freezing. When thawing meat products, never defrost them on the kitchen counter. The safest way to thaw these types of foods is in the refrigerator, which will require planning ahead. Frozen foods can be thawed in the microwave; however they must be cooked immediately upon thawing because microwaves partially cook food in the thawing process.
Keep these tips in mind when cooking outdoors:
• Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and fish away from fresh produce or ready-to-eat foods that will not be cooked prior to eating. Raw meat products should be stored on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator to prevent juices from meat products dripping on other food items.
• Use a separate cooler to store raw meat products for transport, and use separate cutting boards for preparing raw meat products. Be sure to wash and sanitize after each use.
• Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw meat products. Wash your utensils, countertops, and cutting boards after being in contact with raw meat products and before reusing for cooked meat.
• Cook food to a safe internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. A food thermometer is the only way to tell if food is “done.”
• Flip meat, poultry and fish at least one time to ensure even cooking. The exception to this rule is fish that is less than ½ inch thick; it does not require turning.
• When using a food thermometer, be sure to insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat product, avoiding any bones. Wash the thermometer in hot soapy water and sanitize the thermometer after using.
• Pork, steaks, roasts and chops should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F. Whole cuts of meat should be cooked to the same temperature, and then allowed to stand for three minutes before carving.
• Ground beef, veal, lamb and port should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F.
• All poultry products should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F.
Once cooked, serve meat, poultry, or seafood immediately or keep warm (135°F or higher) until served. Refrigerate leftovers immediately, keeping at a temperature of 40°F or lower. Throw out any foods that have been out longer than 2 hours; 1 hour if the temperature if over 90°F.
Following these simple guidelines when cooking outdoors will ensure a safe, fun time of enjoying summer!