In general, grilling food outdoors is a lot safer than cooking inside. While cooking on the stove or in the microwave poses many risks that don't exist when you're grilling outside, there are still some safety precautions to take for safe and delicious outdoor cooking. The Grilling 101 series continues with What You Need to Know About Food Safety.
One of the key ingredients to a successful grilling experience is keeping your food safe and contaminate-free. This article discusses the reality of the food safety hazards, explaining some of the basic guidelines on keeping food safe while grilling, what temperature foods should be cooked, and how long food can be left out.
Basic Food Safety Guidelines
Basic food safety must start in the kitchen before it's taken outdoors. Here are some basic food safety guidelines that apply to cooking indoors and outdoors:
- Cross-contamination - The most common cause of foodborne illnesses is cross-contamination between food preparation and serving areas. Take care to keep each area clean and separated as you cook.
- Wash hands and surfaces often - Keep your hands and surfaces clean when dealing with raw meats, poultry, and seafood. Unwashed hands and surfaces lead to cross-contamination and are a primary cause of foodborne illnesses, so clean it up often and keep it clean.
- Bacteria - Foodborne illnesses come from bacteria spreading across uncooked and cooked food. Since bacteria multiply rapidly between 40 and 140°F, it is vital to keep dangerous foods outside of this range. Raw meat, poultry, and seafood must be kept below 40°F before being cooked, whereas cooked food needs to be kept above 140°F to keep the bacteria at bay.
- Wash all fruits and vegetables - Unless you have personal relationships with local farmers and only buy all your produce from them, you don't have any idea what processes and chemicals have touched your fruits and vegetables. Always wash fruits and vegetables before prepping and consuming with a recognized fruit and vegetable wash or cool water at a minimum to remove pesticides, dirt, chemicals, and wax.
When cooking outdoors, make sure you properly clean your grill before and after each use. You also want to take any of your utensils, grates, or other items that will come in contact with raw meat and wash those with hot soapy water as well. Once the grill is ready, make sure to cook all meat thoroughly before handling it again. Remember, any time you are grilling outside, it's essential to follow these basic rules and guidelines to keep yourself and those around you safe from foodborne illnesses.
Basic Food Safety: Handling Raw Meat and Ingredients
Proper handling of raw meat and ingredients is a vital part of grilling food. Uncooked meat, poultry, and seafood can contaminate other surfaces with bacteria, so they must be kept separate from other food ingredients. The safest way to handle raw meat when cooking outside is to use one cutting board or platter for the raw meat and another for the other food ingredients.
Always use a clean towel when handling raw meat or any surface that may have come into contact with it. Utensils that come in contact with raw meat, such as tongs or forks, should also be cleaned before using them again. It's also important to keep hands, cutting boards, knives, dishes, and other dishes clean while food is being prepared. If any of these items are not kept clean, then bacteria can spread to the cooked meat and cause it to be unsafe.
Guidelines for handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood:
- Thaw - It is crucial to thaw meat thoroughly and safely before cooking it. The preferred thawing method is to thaw all frozen meat in the refrigerator to safely rise in temperature but remain cold enough that bacteria don't grow. This method is slow, however, and requires planning since it takes about five hours per pound. For more ways to
- Keep it cool - Always marinate foods in the refrigerator for the same reason we thaw in the fridge - bacteria. During the marinating process, the meat is tenderized and infused with moisture from a combination of salt, seasonings, and liquids. However, the raw ingredients still need to be kept below 40°F to stay the growth of harmful bacteria.
- Throw away the used marinade - Any remaining marinade after removing the meat needs to be thrown away because it is contaminated. If the recipe also calls for using the marinade as a sauce, that portion should be separated before adding the meat. The reserved marinade can be stored refrigerated for a few days until needed.
- Wash everything - Any utensil or surface, including your hands, need to be washed with soap and warm to hot water every time they come in contact with raw meat, poultry, or seafood. The longer you wait to wash, the more contaminated your kitchen or workspace will become, and the bacteria will multiply rapidly at room temperature.
Basic Food Safety: Minimum Safe Food Temperatures
You should always make sure that cooked meat has reached the appropriate temperature before serving to ensure your and your guests' safety. The FDA has suggested safe cooking temperatures for beef, pork, poultry, and seafood, ensuring harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness cannot multiply. Using an instant-read food thermometer is a necessary tool to measure the doneness of the dish correctly.
Safe Cooking Temperatures
These are the minimum safe temperatures and must be adhered to, with no exceptions. No matter what your misled TV chef has on their show, it is your sole responsibility not to make anyone ill in your home with food-related illnesses due to careless grilling practices.
FDA Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures
- Fish/Seafood - 145°F
- Ground turkey/chicken - 165°F
- Fresh beef/veal/lamb/pork - 145°F plus 3 minutes to rest
- Ground Beef or Pork - 160°F
- Fresh Ham - 145°F plus 3 minutes to rest
- Poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.) - 165°F
- Eggs and egg dishes - 165°F
- Leftovers - 165°F
The appropriate food temperatures are significant to food safety while grilling. Food left out in the heat for more than two hours should be discarded because bacteria can grow to very high numbers during this time frame. Once cooked, food can be held for up to four hours without refrigeration before being discarded.
Basic Food Safety: Safe Serving Guidelines
We have all been to a barbecue or holiday party where a smorgasbord of snacks, appetizers, side dishes, and main courses are left out throughout the day for open feasting. Often someone reports feeling ill the next day because appropriate safeguards were not put in place when serving the food throughout the day. The USDA recommends that grilled food should not be left out for more than two hours and that any cooked food that is likely to spoil should not be left out for more than one hour.
When grilling food outdoors, it's important to remember that temperatures and humidity can affect how quickly bacteria multiply on any raw meat or poultry. Practice the following guidelines regardless of what grandma says is safe.
Cold foods like dips, veggies, fruit, salads, and more are usually safe under the following conditions:
- Kept cool to 40°F or less, using appliances, ice pans, or ice chests
- Set out no longer than 2 hours in temperature under 90°F
- Set out no longer than 1 hour if the temperature is above 90°F
Whether baked, sauteed, grilled, or roasted, keep hot foods at or above 140°F for safety. Use warming trays or crockpots to maintain temperature and keep harmful bacteria from growing.
Everybody loves leftovers, especially after enormous parties or holidays like Thanksgiving. Since all food has a shelf-life, refrigerate or freeze leftover foods promptly. If the time limits listed above have already been exceeded, then discard them.
Continue Learning with Grilling 101
Cooking food outdoors can be a great way to spend time with family and friends, but it is essential to keep safety in mind. With the tips and guidelines listed above, you can ensure a wonderful outdoor grilling experience for your family and guests. The Grilling 101 series will continue next time with tips on using your grill and some basic practices so that you can look like a pro.