Some friends tailgate before football games, complete with grilling burgers and brats in the parking lot outside the stadium. But they don’t seem to take basic food safety precautions. They say they’ve never had a problem, but are there guidelines I can give them?
For people who know a thing or two about food safety, nothing will make them grit their teeth more than hearing, “We’ve always done it this way and we’ve never had a problem.”
That’s what people always say — until they experience a problem. In fact, leaders of a church in North Carolina said something similar last month when nearly 90 people became ill with Salmonella poisoning — 13 of them hospitalized. That was after a church barbecue, held annually for 50 years.
Even if you’ve never had a problem before, you still need to follow common-sense food safety guidelines, because you never know when foodborne illness might raise its ugly head.
Tailgating deserves some special considerations because you’re likely in an especially relaxed, carefree atmosphere, yet trying to prepare food in a spot without running water or other conveniences that we often take for granted during food preparation.
Bring plenty of water and sanitizers. You’ll need clean, wet, disposable cloths, moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning hands and surfaces.
Be sure any juices from raw meat and poultry don’t contaminate other foods. Wrap meat securely; carry it in a separate cooler if possible. Immediately throw away paper plates you use to carry raw meat to the grill.
When grilling, test meat with a thermometer to be sure it’s cooked thoroughly: hamburgers and bratwursts to 160 degrees F; chicken to 165 degrees F.
Pack cold perishable food in an insulated cooler with several inches of ice, frozen gel packs or containers of ice. Remember, you’ll need enough coolers and ice to keep any perishable leftovers — even beans or other dishes you may have brought to the tailgate warm — chilled to 40 degrees F or lower when the party is over.
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.