Meigs Health Matters

By E. Dawn Keller - Contributing Columnist

It’s summertime, the weather is hot and outdoor parties are under way. This is the time of year for family and friends gather around the summer feast we call a cookout.

Whether you like to grill with gas, charcoal or good old firewood, here are a few food safety tips that can help keep you and everyone you serve safe and healthy.

Food safety starts at the grocery store. Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat items. Don’t let the package of chicken touch the pint of strawberries. If they even touch, cross contamination has occurred. The only way to kill the bacteria that live on raw meat is by cooking at a high temperature.

Since most of us aren’t cooking the strawberries, the bacteria are going to live on them and multiply. Eating contaminated strawberries could easily make someone sick. Make sure raw meats are separated from ready-to-eat foods in both the cart and the grocery bag.

Continue the separation strategy at home. In the refrigerator, store raw meats at the lowest level. This will prevent any raw meat juices from dripping down onto other foods. If you are packing a cooler, use a separate cooler for raw meats. If another cooler isn’t practical, put the meat in a sealable container and place it in the bottom of the cooler. Never reuse the cooler ice for beverages.

Wash your hands. Hand washing is the No. 1 way to prevent food-borne illness. Use warm water and soap. Scrub at least 20 seconds, rinse with warm water, dry on a disposable towel, or at least a clean one. Wash before starting to prep, between tasks, after taking breaks, and especially after touching raw meats.

During preparation, do the fruits and veggies first. Once you prep the meats, immediately use hot soapy water to wash the cutting board, knife, countertop, sink and anything else that may have come in contact with raw meat.

Another big food safety issue is temperature control. As the weather gets warmer, food spoils quicker. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Make sure to get your groceries home and in the refrigerator as soon as possible. Marinate in the refrigerator, never on a countertop. Be sure meats are cooked thoroughly.

Get a food thermometer. They are a cheap and effective way to see that chicken gets to 165 degrees, burgers and brats to 155 degrees, and chops and steaks make it to 145 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer and suspect the foods may be undercooked because of color or texture, throw it back on the heat. It’s better to wait a few more minutes than to get sick from undercooked food.

When removing the cooked meats from the grill, be sure to place them on a clean plate.

Cold foods should stay below 41 degrees. Once cold foods reach 70 degrees, they are no longer safe to eat. Keep salads and sliced fruit in the refrigerator until it is time to serve. If you are outdoors with a cooler, place it in the shade. If foods must be set out buffet-style on a hot day, set it up in the shade and keep the bowls on ice. Stir salads periodically to distribute the cold.

Keep all foods covered until the last minute; this will help hold the temperature and keep the flies out. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours. Refrigerate within one hour if the temperature is more than 90 degrees.

It is especially important to follow these guidelines if you are serving a highly susceptible population, such as the elderly or very young children. Grilling is one of the healthiest ways to prepare food. Mind your food safety and have a safe, healthy summer.

By E. Dawn Keller

Contributing Columnist

E. Dawn Keller is sanitarian-in-training at the Meigs County Health Department.

E. Dawn Keller is sanitarian-in-training at the Meigs County Health Department.