Shana Tatum, RD LD

Shana Tatum, RD LD

It’s officially the warm season and people are firing up the grill to enjoy some good ol' fashioned barbecues. With more people feeling good about gathering together, especially outside, cooking outdoors and grilling may be activities high on the list.

Be sure your food safety knowledge is also properly prepared.

Food poisoning is considered a serious public health threat by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million people get sick with more than 128,000 people hospitalized annually in America from foodborne illnesses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports more than 40 different types of bacteria, viruses, mold and parasites that cause foodborne illness.

Bacteria are everywhere. Contaminants come from the air, soil, water and can also occur naturally in foods such as fish. With summer temperatures, these microorganisms grow quickly, especially in Houston’s humid environment. Keeping your work and prep area clean is very important in preventing foodborne illness, for meat and vegetables alike.

Food can become unsafe in different ways. Time and temperature abuse are one way. This is when food has stayed at a temperature too long, becoming unsafe and conducive to the growth of bacteria. It can also be that food was not prepared and cooked at the right temperature.

Cross contamination is another way that pathogens can transfer to food. An example of this is if ready-to-eat food touches a contaminated surface such as a cutting board that was used for slicing raw meat. Poor personal hygiene such as coughing or sneezing on food or preparing food while sick may also spread foodborne illnesses. Improper cleaning and sanitizing are an obvious spread. Cleaning rags used to wipe off a cutting board and then used to clean a counter can spread germs.

According to the National Cattleman’s Beef Association, beef sales are the highest for July 4 cookouts with expected sales of $400 million. Hot dog consumption continues to climb at 150 million hot dogs consumed on the holiday and sales of chicken reach 700 million pounds as reported by the National Retail Federation. That’s a lotta meat!

Vegetables, too, can pose a threat if not treated with proper safety measures. Germs such as Salmonella, pathogenic E. coli and Listeria can cause serious illness. It is estimated by the CDC that more than 40 percent of foodborne illness is caused by germs on fresh produce. Be sure fruits and vegetables are not bruised or damaged when purchased.

Foods most likely to be unsafe, requiring time and temperature monitoring are:

- Milk and dairy products

- Beef, pork and lamb

- Fish

- Baked potatoes

- Tofu or other soy proteins such as textured soy protein in meat alternatives

- Sliced melons, cut tomatoes and cut leafy greens

- Eggs

- Poultry

- Shellfish

- Cooked rice, beans and vegetables

- Sprouts and sprout seeds

Follow these guidelines below to keep your cookouts and gatherings safe:

- Wash all utensils and cutting boards after use

- Wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap before and after food preparation

- Wash and scrub all fruits and vegetables before eating and cooking

- Wash grill grates

Separate, don’t cross contaminate

- Store fruits and vegetables away from raw meat, poultry and seafood

- Keep cooked foods away from raw meat and poultry

- Use a clean platter and utensils for grilling

- Use a separate cutting board for fresh vegetables and fruits from raw meats

Refrigerate promptly

- Perishable foods should not sit out for longer than two hours, and for only one hour if it's warmer than 90 degrees.

- Refrigeration should be at 40 degrees or lower

- Practice FIFO – “first in, first out” in the refrigerator

Cook to proper temperature

- Hot dogs to 165 degrees

- Chicken to 165 degrees

- Ground beef/hamburger to 160 degrees

- Fish to 145 degrees

- Pork to 145 degrees

Always use a food thermometer to register a safe temperature.

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