4th of July is for fireworks, not foodborne illnesses
Get out the grill and your red, white and blue because the 4th of July is here. This means gatherings, outdoor festivities and good times with family and friends. As meat sizzles on the grill, don’t let food safety fade from your memory.
“Wherever you go this summer, remember to bring your safe food handling practices with you for the adventure,” said Sandra Eskin, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for food safety. “As temperatures rise, the risk of foodborne illness also increases. Always remember that whether you’re grilling for the 4th of July, camping, or boating, you should wash your hands before and during food preparation.
Whether you’re eating at home or out in a park this 4th of July, sanitation is key to fighting foodborne illness. Be sure to wash your hands and sanitize your cooking area before preparing food. Safe food handling practices also help avoid cross-contamination. Summer brings additional unique challenges to food security due to warmer temperatures. Be sure to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold this July 4th, and don’t forget your food thermometer.
Clean and disinfect
Always wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat and poultry. A recent USDA study (PDF, 1.3 MB) showed that 56% of participants did not attempt to wash their hands while preparing meals. When preparing your 4th of July meal, don’t skip this step. Remember that hand sanitizer isn’t as effective as hand washing, but it’s better than nothing. If you’re camping and don’t have access to running water, use hand sanitizer as an alternative.
Wash surfaces and utensils with soap and warm water before cooking and after contact with raw meat and poultry. After cleaning surfaces that raw meat and poultry have touched, apply a commercial or homemade disinfectant solution (1 tablespoon of liquid bleach per gallon of water). Use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
Avoid cross contamination
Cross contamination is another risk to your summer enjoyment. Don’t let it ruin your plans or your food. Cross-contamination can occur even when cooking or preparing food for grilling. In the recent USDA observational study, 32% of participants contaminated plates and cutting boards and 12% contaminated spice containers during food preparation.
Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat. Any utensils that have come into contact with raw meat should also be cleaned. Use separate plates to bring raw meat to the grill, then remove the cooked meat from the grill. The USDA recommends using separate cutting boards; one for meat and another for fruits and vegetables.
Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold
Whether you’re carrying food for hiking, camping, a barbecue or a picnic, the rule remains the same: keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Food is in the “danger zone” when it is within the temperature range of 40 F and 140 F. If in the “danger zone” for too long, bacteria can grow to dangerous levels. Perishable foods (such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken wings) should be discarded if left outside for more than two hours, or one hour if outdoor or indoor temperatures in the area are above 90 F .
Store cold foods at 40 F or lower by keeping foods tucked away in ice, in a cooler with a cold source, or in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
Keep hot foods at 140 F or higher by placing food on a broiler, in a preheated oven, warming trays, food warmers, or slow cookers.
The higher the temperature, the faster the food needs to be chilled. Be sure to bring a cooler with ice to the next barbecue to store perishable foods.
Use a food thermometer
Many people use cues such as grill marks, color, taste, and firmness to see if their food is fully cooked, but these tests carry a great risk of food poisoning. Measuring the internal temperature of meat with a food thermometer is the surest way to tell if your food is fully cooked. Make sure the thermometer reaches the thickest part of the meat, from the side, for the most accurate temperature reading. USDA research showed that an alarming number of control group participants, only 55%, relied on a food thermometer to determine if their food was safe to eat. This is a steep drop from the previous study where 77% used a food thermometer.
Whatever you cook this summer, be sure to use a food thermometer. The following foods are safe to eat once they have reached these internal temperatures:
Cook steaks, chops, and roasts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal to 145 F. For safety and quality, let meat rest for at least three minutes before carving or eating. .
Cook the fish at 145 F.
Cook ground meats (beef, pork, lamb and veal) at 160 F.
Cook ground beef, pork, lamb and veal at 160 F.
Cook egg dishes at 160 F.
Cook poultry (whole or ground) to 165 F.
These findings are part of a multi-year, mixed-methods study that the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) commissioned to assess various consumer food handling behaviors. Study uses test kitchens, focus groups and nationally representative surveys to better understand food safety practices and experiences with food recalls, foodborne illnesses and resources of FSIS on food safety. Further information on this study is available in an executive summary (PDF, 102 KB).
For more food safety information, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), email MPHotline @usda.gov or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.