Get Healthy: Food safety is paramount for summer cookouts
July 3, 2013
This column appears in the Nevada Appeal Wednesday health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.
The upcoming July 4 holiday is a great opportunity to spend time with friends and family around the grill or at a picnic. You can take these precautions when preparing and storing food for outdoor summer events to ensure that food is safe to eat.
Start off your meal right by always washing your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. It's important to wash both before and after handling food to help avoid spreading germs. Cross-contamination is when germs from one type of food, such as raw chicken, get on another type of food, such as veggies for salad. When taking foods off the grill, do not put cooked food items back on the same plates that were used for raw food, unless they have been washed with hot water and soap first.
Dustin Boothe, Environmental Health Division manager at CCHHS, emphasizes the importance of preventing cross-contamination.
"It is essential to keep your raw and ready-to-eat foods separated from those that need to be cooked. Ice that you use to cool your grilling items should not be the same ice that you use for your drinks," he said.
Use a food thermometer to ensure that food on the grill reaches a safe internal temperature. Ground beef should be cooked to 160 degrees, while large cuts of beef such as roasts and steaks should be cooked to at least 145 degrees. Poultry must reach a temperature of 165 degrees. Fish should be opaque and flake easily. Bob Elliot, a food inspector at the Health Department, encourages people to ensure their food is safe to eat by using a thermometer. He shared this adage for remembering: "You can't tell the temperature by looking, so use a thermometer when you're cooking."
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In hot weather like we have been experiencing, foods should never sit out for more than one hour before going in the refrigerator or cooler. A full cooler will maintain its low temperatures longer than one that is partly filled, so pack plenty of extra ice or freezer packs to ensure a constant cool temperature. Keep the cooler out of the direct sun. Store drinks in a separate cooler from foods. The beverage cooler will be opened frequently, while the food cooler stays cold. Also, this will keep drinks from coming in contact with raw foods.
If you aren't planning a real picnic this July 4, you can still have a fun virtual picnic and learn about food safety with the Perfect Picnic app for the iPhone. This Sims-like virtual game from our food-safety partner Fighbac.org allows users to host their own virtual picnic, and can be downloaded from the iTunes App Store.