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.
What’s the best thing to do when you hear a food that you’ve recently purchased is being recalled?
First, find out why the product is being recalled. If it’s due to an undeclared food allergen, for example, and no one in your household suffers from that allergy, you don’t have to worry about it.
However, if the recall is due to concern about foodborne illness and you haven’t yet eaten the product, you have two options. You can return the product to the store and ask for a refund, or you can throw it away. If you decide to dispose of it, do it in a way so you’re sure it won’t be consumed by anyone else. Also: It’s not a good idea to feed the recalled food to pets. They can get sick from the food just like you can.
If you’ve already consumed the product and feel ill, check your symptoms with those listed in the recall alert. For example, a recent recall of ground beef from Michigan due to concerns about Salmonella contamination listed symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever within 12 to 72 hours after consuming the product.
If it appears that your illness may be due to the recalled product, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends:
Preserve the evidence. If you still have some of the food available, wrap it securely, mark it clearly with “DANGER” and put it in the freezer. If possible, save all the packaging materials, including cans or cartons. Write down when the product was consumed and when the symptoms started. If you have identical unopened products, save them but mark them so no one else will consume them.
Seek treatment as necessary. If your symptoms get severe or persist, contact your doctor or other health professional. That’s especially important if you’re at high risk for foodborne illness. High-risk groups include children, older adults and anyone dealing with a weakened immune system due to another illness, including conditions such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease or organ transplant patients, or when taking certain medications.
Call your local health department.
If the suspect product is meat, poultry or eggs and you still have its packaging, contact the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854.
To find out about food recalls, check the website http://www.foodsafety.gov/recalls/. It contains information about recalls and alerts about foods regulated by both the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. There, you can also sign up for alerts about current food recalls.