Grilling this Weekend? Use Meat Thermometer to Increase Food Safety

My dad considers himself a grill master, but I think some of his techniques are questionable, like marinating the meat in a dish on the countertop or checking the doneness of burgers or chicken by color. What can I tell him to convince him these methods aren’t safe?

Pork on skewers cooked on barbecue grill. USDA advises consumers to use a food thermometer to accurately measure if meat is cooked to a high enough internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria. Photo: Thinkstock.

Your dad is not alone — many people use color as an indicator of doneness when grilling meats. In fact, according to recent research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, only 34 percent of the public uses a food thermometer when cooking hamburgers.

But, in order to avoid foodborne illness, the USDA advises consumers to use a food thermometer to accurately measure if meat is cooked to a high enough internal temperature to destroy any harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E. coli that may be present.

The safe minimum cooking temperature for ground meats, including beef, pork, veal and lamb, is 160 degrees. Turkey and chicken should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, according to USDA. Steak and pork can be safely cooked to 145 degrees.

To get the most accurate temperature reading, you should place the meat thermometer in the thickest part of the food to gauge its temperature.

In addition, USDA says you should allow a three-minute rest time after removing the meat from the heat source. During this rest time, the temperature of the meat remains constant or continues to rise and destroys any pathogens that may be present.

The problem with using color as an indicator of doneness for ground beef, for instance, is if raw ground beef is somewhat brown already, it may look fully cooked before it reaches a safe temperature. Different levels of oxygenation at different locations inside and on the surface of the meat can cause the meat to look red on the outside and brown on the inside.

So if the meat is already brown, it won’t change color during cooking, USDA says.

On the question of marinating meats and poultry, it’s safest to do so in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator kept at 40 degrees or colder, or in an iced cooler if you are transporting the food. This is because bacteria that can cause foodborne illness grow rapidly at room temperature.

Keeping these safety tips in mind can help you have enjoyable backyard BBQs this spring and summer without the worry of getting sick from eating undercooked meats.

Other tips for safe grilling from USDA and the National Fire Protection Association include:

  • Propane and charcoal BBQ grills should be used only outdoors.
  • The grill should be placed well away from the home, deck railings, and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
  • Keep your grill clean by removing grease or fat buildup from the grills and in trays below the grill.
  • Never leave your grill unattended.
  • For charcoal grills, use only lighter fluid designed for grilling. Never use gasoline or other flammable liquids, and never add more lighter fluid once the fire has started.
  • Don’t cover or store your grill until it has cooled, and soak coals with water before throwing them away.

Wedding Season Food Safety Tips

My fiancé and I are getting married in June and we want to make sure our guests have a wonderful experience. But I’ve heard some horror stories about people getting sick from food during wedding receptions. What can we do to make sure that doesn’t happen at our wedding?

Adhering to good food safety guidelines during a wedding reception will help ensure that your guests leave your wedding with only happy memories.

Adhering to good food safety guidelines during a wedding reception will help ensure that your guests leave your wedding with only happy memories. No one wants a bad case of food poisoning that could leave them sick for days or even land them in the hospital as a wedding favor.

That has been the case for some wedding guests, according to published reports.

More than 300 guests were sickened during a 2014 wedding in Sullivan, Mo. after consuming gravy that was not cooled and reheated correctly. That allowed Clostridium perfringens, a bacterium that can be harmful to humans, to develop, leaving guests with abdominal cramps and diarrhea.

Guests at a 2016 Alabama wedding contracted Salmonella poisoning from eating green beans and improperly cooked chicken. Cross contamination was likely caused by using the same serving utensils for the green beans and the chicken, authorities there said.

And in July 2015, some 35 wedding guests in Brewerton, N.Y., were sickened by Staphylococcus aureus — a salt-tolerant bacteria that can grow in foods such as ham and in gravies and sauces — after eating food served at a wedding reception.

Nationwide, the CDC estimates 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases each year. To help prevent that from happing at your wedding, the U.S Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service offers these food safety questions brides and grooms should ask their caterer before the reception:

  • Is the catering staff properly trained on safe food handling?
  • When and where is the food prepared? If the food is prepared off-site, ensure the food is transported safely. If the food is prepared on-site, appropriate tools are needed to prepare and serve the food including multiple knives, serving spoons, cutting boards and towels.
  • How is food transported to the venue? Cold foods should stay cold and hot foods stay hot. Use sealable containers for food – transporting unsealed food containers in the same compartment could result in spillage and cross-contamination.
  • How long after food—especially meat, poultry, seafood and eggs—is cooked is it brought out to guests? Perishable foods should not be left at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • How long does the buffet remain open and how will the caterer avoid food from entering the “danger zone” — between 40 and 140 degrees, where bacteria multiply rapidly? Chafing dishes or warming trays should be used to keep hot foods hot, and ice or other cold sources should be used to keep cold foods cold. Never leave perishable foods in the “danger zone” for more than two hours or longer than one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees. After two hours, food that has been sitting out without temperature control should be replaced with fresh food.
  • Are there any potential allergens used in the preparation of the food, including nuts, soy, milk, eggs, wheat and fish or shellfish? If there are, guests should be notified in advance. Allergens should also be noted on the buffet.
  • Is a food thermometer used to check that all foods have been properly cooked and are held at safe temperatures? No one can tell if meat is properly cooked by its color – using a thermometer is a must.

For brides and grooms who choose to prepare the wedding food on their own without a caterer, in addition to the above food safety tips, keep in mind the following:

  • Separate raw foods from cooked foods.
  • Do not use utensils on cooked foods that were previously used on raw foods.
  • Chill foods promptly after preparing and when transporting from one place to another.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Kate Shumaker, an Ohio State University Extension Educator and registered dietitian

Stay Hydrated in Warmer Weather

Now that spring is here and the weather is warming up, I plan to be outside more doing all kinds of strenuous outdoor activities. What are some ways to keep hydrated?

When temperatures rise, getting enough fluids is even more important whether you’re playing sports, traveling or just outside in the sun. Photo: Thinkstock.

Staying hydrated is a key part of staying healthy. Consuming an adequate amount of fluids helps to maintain body functions, including those of your heart, brain and muscles. Fluids also serve to carry nutrients to your cells, keep your temperature normal, digest food, flush bacteria from your bladder and prevent constipation.

However, when temperatures rise, getting enough fluids is even more important whether you’re playing sports, traveling or just outside in the sun, according to the American Heart Association. In fact, your body needs more fluids when you are more physically active, are running a fever, or are experiencing vomiting or diarrhea.

So how much water should you be drinking daily?

Doctors at Harvard Medical School recommend that healthy people should get 30 to 50 ounces of water per day, which translates to about 4 to 6 cups or 1 to 1.5 liters.

And the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommends that people avoid sugar-sweetened drinks from their diet overall, or at the very least, that they limit the amount of sugary drinks they consume. In addition to water, milk is also a good option to help in hydration.

You can try these tips offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to add more water to your fluid intake:

  • Infuse tap water with flavor by adding foods such as berries, cucumbers, mint leaves, lemons or limes. Slightly mashing berries and mint leaves before adding them will make the water even tastier.
  • Freeze ice cube trays with berries to add to water to keep it cold.
  • Freeze some freezer-safe water bottles for ice-cold water all day long.
  • Choose water instead of other beverages when eating out. This not only will save you money, but you will also lower your caloric intake.
  • Choose water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages, which can also help you manage your weight. Substituting water for one 20-ounce sugar-sweetened soda will save you about 240 calories.

You can also increase your fluid intake by consuming foods with high water content. In addition to helping to fulfill your fluid needs, such foods can provide needed nutrients including vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. Nationwide, an estimated 22 percent of our water comes from our food intake, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Fruits such as watermelon, strawberries, grapefruit, cantaloupe, peaches, pineapple, cranberries, oranges, raspberries, apricots, blueberries, plums, apples, pears, cherries, grapes and bananas are high in water content.

Vegetables such as cucumbers, lettuce, zucchini, radishes, celery, tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers, spinach, broccoli, carrots, peas and white potatoes also provide water to help you stay hydrated.

But how will you know if you are getting enough fluids? According to the Cleveland Clinic, signs of dehydration include fatigue, loss of appetite, flushed skin, heat intolerance, light-headedness, dark-colored urine and dry cough.

A great way to avoid dehydration is to consume fluids before you get thirsty. So remember to grab a water bottle each morning and keep it with you all day long!

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension

Food Safety after the Storm

Our neighborhood lost power after a round of violent storms hit our area and some of our neighbors’ homes were also flooded. Now that the storms are over and the power is coming back on, can we still eat the food in our fridge and freezer?

Any foods in your home that aren’t in a waterproof container that comes into contact with floodwater needs to be thrown out.

That depends on how long the power was out, how you managed the food in your refrigerator and freezer while the electricity wasn’t on and whether any of the food or beverages were touched by floodwaters.

If your home was flooded, it is important that you throw away any food that may have come into contact with floodwater. That includes cartons of milk, juice or eggs and any raw vegetables and fruits. In fact, any foods in your home that aren’t in a waterproof container that came into contact with floodwater need to be thrown out.

Floodwater can seep into and contaminate foods packaged in plastic wrap or cardboard and in containers with screw-on caps, snap lids and pull tops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

The best way to avoid the potential for foodborne illness in such cases is to throw away all foods not contained in waterproof packaging – that includes foods in your pantry, cabinets, fridge and freezer that came into contact with floodwater.

Canned goods also need to be inspected for damage due to flooding. Throw away any cans with swelling, leakage, punctures, deep rusting or those that are crushed or severely dented and can’t be opened with a can opener.

Foodborne bacteria can cause illness. Symptoms will occur usually within one to three days of eating the contaminated food. However, symptoms can also occur within 20 minutes or up to 6 weeks later, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In the case of a power outage without flooding, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. If not opened, a refrigerator without power will keep food cold for about four hours. A half-full freezer will hold its temperature for about 24 hours, and for 48 hours if the freezer is full, USDA says.

If the power is out more than four hours, you can store refrigerated foods in a cooler with dry ice or block ice. You can also use dry ice or block ice in the fridge to keep it as cold as possible during an extended power outage, according to FDA.

Other safe food handling tips after a power outage from USDA and FDA include:

  • Check the temperature inside of your refrigerator and freezer. Throw away any perishable food such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs or leftovers that has been above 40 degrees for two hours or more.
  • Check each item separately. Throw away any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture or feels warm to the touch.
  • Check frozen food for ice crystals. The food in your freezer that partially or completely thawed may be safely refrozen if it still contains ice crystals or is 40 degrees or below.

Remember, when in doubt about the safety of the food item, throw it out – never taste the food to decide if it is safe to eat, USDA says. Refrigerated food should be safe as long as the power was out for no more than four hours and the refrigerator door was kept shut, according to FDA.

Experts agree — one way to be prepared in the event of an extended power outage is to keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that don’t require cooking or cooling. And keep a supply of bottled water stored where it will be safe from floodwaters.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, OSU Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or turner.490@osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Sanja Ilic, specialist in Food Safety for Ohio State University Extension