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Don't let food-borne illness spoil any summer celebration

BLACKSBURG, Va., June 27, 2008 – Summer and outdoor cooking go together. Make sure that food-borne illness isn’t a part of the season. Always practice food safety so that food-borne illness does not spoil summer fun.

Food-safety precautions are always important, said Renee Boyer, consumer food-safety specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension. Following the precautions is especially important in warm weather. According to a recent study, the number of cases of food-borne illnesses is higher in the summer months.

“Wash hands and surfaces often when preparing food,” Boyer said. “Unwashed hands may carry microorganisms that cause food-borne illness. When cooking outdoors wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before preparing the meal, especially after handling raw meat and poultry, and after using the restroom. Use paper towels for drying your hands and cleaning surfaces.”

Don’t cross-contaminate by putting cooked or ready-to-eat food on the same surface where raw meat has been, Boyer added. For example, when packing a cooler chest for an outing, wrap raw meats securely so that raw meat juices cannot come in contact with or drip onto ready-to-eat or already cooked foods. Wash plates, utensils, and cutting boards that held the raw meat or poultry before using them again for cooked food. Otherwise, these could be prime sources of cross-contamination.

Keep cold foods refrigerated or use frozen gel packs in coolers to keep food at proper holding temperature. According to Boyer, cold food held at room or outdoor temperatures for more than two hours may not be safe to eat. If you are eating outside on a hot day, when the outdoor temperatures reach 90 degrees F or above, food should not be left out of refrigeration or a cooler longer than one hour.

To keep coolers with food as cold as possible, don’t open them often. If the outdoor meal will include drinks, put the drinks in a separate cooler. This will avoid having to open the food cooler to take out drinks, letting the food cooler stay closed and keeping the cold inside it.

Boyer encourages summer chefs to cook food to proper temperatures. Use a food thermometer to ensure food has reached the correct temperature. According to recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ground meat products such as hamburger, veal, lamb, and pork must be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F; chicken and turkey, 165 degrees F. Steak and fish should be grilled to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. At this temperature, fish usually flakes with a fork, which indicates that it is ready to eat.

Barbecue sauces and marinades are popular when cooking out on a grill. “There are special food-safety precautions for preparing these popular dishes,” Boyer said. “When marinating meat, put the meat and marinade in a clean glass dish and place it in the refrigerator for the time it needs to marinate. Never leave meat on the kitchen counter at room temperature.”

If you wish to serve some of the sauce as a dip, save some of the sauce separately from the portion used for the raw meat. Marinade used on raw meat must be heated to 165 degrees F.

When cooking the marinated meat or poultry, be certain to cook the food completely whether using the grill, microwave, or oven. According to Boyer, this ensures that bacteria in the raw food are destroyed. Partially cooking meat or poultry in the microwave or oven or parboiling to reduce grilling time is safe only if the food is transferred immediately from the oven or stove to the hot grill. If you are taking meats and poultry to a picnic, cook them thoroughly and chill them thoroughly in the refrigerator or take them chilled and raw.

Boyer recommends putting leftovers in clean shallow containers and placing them in the refrigerator immediately. Leftovers may be reheated on a grill to provide added flavor, but make sure all leftovers are heated to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F or above.

Contact: Renee Boyer
Consumer Food-Safety Specialist
Virginia Cooperative Extension
Virginia Tech
(540) 231-4330

Contact: Michael Sutphin
Communications and Marketing
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Virginia Tech
(540) 231-6975

Writer: Susan Suddarth
Student Intern
Communications and Marketing
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Virginia Tech