A colleague mentioned he got really sick after a cookout last year. What are the most important things to remember regarding food safety when grilling out this season?
No one really wants to think about food poisoning when they’re enjoying the outdoors and grilling food. But food safety is just as important to keep in mind whether you’re in the kitchen, at your backyard barbecue or grilling food at the company picnic.
Food safety specialists say it’s especially important to make sure meat is cooked thoroughly when grilling out. People used to think that if meat looks pink, it isn’t done, and if it looks brown, it’s fine to eat. But food safety researchers have found that that’s false. Meat can be pink and be cooked thoroughly; it can be brown and not cooked enough. The only way to tell is by using a meat thermometer.
Be sure to insert the thermometer so it gets to the thickest part of the meat, but doesn’t touch any bone, which can distort the temperature reading. For burgers, insert the thermometer sideways and be sure it’s testing the center portion of the patty.
Safe temperatures include:
Hot dogs: 165 degrees F or until steaming hot.
Poultry, including ground poultry: 165 degrees F.
Ground beef and other ground meat (not poultry): 160 degrees F.
Whole cuts of pork, lamb, veal and beef, including steaks and chops: 145 degrees F (followed by a three-minute rest time).
Fish: 145 degrees F.
Other things to bear in mind:
Don’t take cooked food from the grill and put it on the same plate that held the raw food. After you place the food on the grill, either thoroughly wash the plate and the utensils you used to handle the raw food, or use a fresh plate and set of utensils for the cooked food. There’s just too great of a possibility that bacteria from the raw food — which is killed by thorough cooking — will recontaminate the food after it’s cooked.
Don’t let food stay out for too long. The general rule is to not let perishable food sit out without refrigeration or heating for longer than two hours. But if it’s a hot summer day above 90 degrees, the risk that foodborne pathogens can multiply to dangerous levels increases, and the time limit drops to one hour.
I can easily find information about nutrition online, but I’m not certain how to tell if it’s reliable. Are there good sources I can trust?
There are plenty of sources of trustworthy nutrition information online — too many to try to list here. But perhaps even more important is learning for yourself how to evaluate information you find on the Web.
Several good sources provide guidance on that. Here are some tips from the National Institutes of Health in its “MedlinePlus Guide to Healthy Web Surfing” (http://bit.ly/hlthyweb) and from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) in its Complete Food and Nutrition Guide (Fourth Edition, 2012):
First, find details about the source of information. Look for an “about us” page — is the source a branch of the government or a highly regarded health-related organization? Is it a nonprofit or educational institution? Is it a commercial enterprise or an individual’s blog? It’s possible to get good information and ideas on all sorts of sites, but you will want to use extra caution if someone is trying to sell you something or doesn’t have highly regarded credentials. People can be passionate about their food and their diet, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily have the background and expertise you’re looking for.
Be on the lookout for claims that sound too good to be true. As with any pitch, a healthy dose of skepticism is called for if a product — even if the “product” in this case is a supplement or a nutrient — promises to be a cure-all or carries some kind of secret ingredient.
Weigh the evidence presented. Personal stories and other types of anecdotal information can be compelling, but look for research that has broader implications than “this is what worked for me.” In addition, if research is cited, understand that one study is just a small piece of the puzzle that builds scientific consensus. Look for indications that this study backs up previous findings or, if not, that it offers an explanation about why researchers found something new.
Look for evidence of bias. Often, industry funding is necessary to conduct research or develop a website, so that in itself doesn’t mean the information is flawed. But it is a clue that should prompt you to investigate other sources on the same topic to see if there’s another perspective.
I’ve been trying to lose some weight, but lately I’ve been eating out a lot, both for business and pleasure. How can I keep eating healthfully at restaurants?
It can be a challenge to keep calories under control when eating out. Portion sizes tend to be big, and, if nutrition information isn’t available, items that sound healthful on the menu may not be so in reality.
However, with a little planning and determination, you can stay on track and keep shedding pounds, even while dining out. Here are a few tips:
If you know where you’ll be eating, look online for a menu to review ahead of time. This will help in case you find yourself caught up in conversation and not able to study the menu carefully once you get to the restaurant.
While you’re online, see if nutrition information is available, either on the restaurant website or a weight loss or fitness website. It’s not always possible to find, but it’s worth investigating since most chain restaurants publish this information.
Don’t assume that salad is your best option. With high-calorie dressings, croutons, cheese, fried chicken or other fried toppings, salads can easily put you overboard on calories if you’re not careful.
Look for lean protein — chicken, fish, or lean pork or beef — that hasn’t been fried or smothered in sauce. Entrees that are baked, broiled, grilled or stir-fried are your best options.
With pasta, choose tomato or marinara sauce instead of cream or cheese sauces. Opt for a dish that doesn’t have cheese as a primary ingredient. If the server offers to add freshly grated cheese on your entree, you can control the amount.
If your meal comes with a side, order a salad or vegetable without butter. If it comes with two sides and there’s only one healthy option that sounds appealing, ask for a double order of that item.
Before you head out, you might want to eat a small portion of lean protein (possibly a high-protein drink or bar) to help you feel satiated and avoid overeating at the restaurant.
If the portion size is large, ask for a take-home container immediately. Then remove half of the meal from your plate so you aren’t tempted to polish it off.
Watch the beverages. Stick with ice water, diet soda or unsweetened iced tea. Limit alcoholic beverages to one at most.
You can enjoy your time dining out and make healthy choices at the same time. Don’t forget your decision to eat a healthy diet when you step through the restaurant door.
Some people at work keep their frozen food entrees in the refrigerator until lunchtime, even though the packages say they should remain frozen until heating. Is this safe?
No, you can’t assume that it is. Frozen food entrees and snack items carry safe food handling and cooking instructions designed to prevent foodborne illness. Consumers should follow these instructions carefully.
Most frozen convenience foods are not ready-to-eat and must be properly cooked first. Some people think freezing food will destroy bacteria that can cause illness, but that’s not true. Freezing temperatures can prevent or slow bacteria from multiplying, but they’re not dead. And they can raise their ugly head when you heat the food and put it in your mouth.
It’s uncommon for frozen foods to be associated with foodborne-illness outbreaks, but it’s been known to happen. In fact, currently there’s a recall in place for Farm Rich, Market Day and Schwan’s frozen food items made at a Rich Products Corporation plant in Georgia during a certain time period due to possible contamination with E. coli O121. As of the end of April, 32 people had become ill, with a third of them hospitalized.
Back in 2010, Marie Callender’s Cheesy Chicken and Rice dinners were associated with a salmonella outbreak. And in 2007, Banquet and store-brand frozen chicken and turkey pot pies made by ConAgra were also linked with salmonella infections.
To be sure, if you have a food that’s been recalled due to foodborne illness, return it to where you made the purchase or throw it away. Don’t assume you can just cook the heck out of it and be safe. It’s not worth the risk.