This column appears in the Nevada Appeal’s Tuesday health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.
It’s the season for picnics, cookouts, and other outdoor parties. But eating outdoors in warm weather presents a food safety challenge. Bacteria in food multiply faster at temperatures between 41 and 135 degrees, so summer heat makes the basics of food safety especially important.
“Fortunately, there are a lot of steps consumers can take to keep family and friends from becoming ill,” says Robert Elliott, environmental health specialist at Carson City Health and Human Services.
Wash hands: It seems basic, but not everyone does it. Wash hands well and often, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom and before cooking or eating. If you’re in an outdoor setting with no bathroom, use a water jug, some soap, and paper towels. Consider carrying moist disposable towelettes for cleaning your hands.
Keep raw food separate from cooked food: Don’t use a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood for anything else unless the plate has first been washed in hot, soapy water. Keep utensils and surfaces clean.
Marinate food in the refrigerator, not out on the counter: And if you want to use some of the marinade as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a separate portion. Don’t reuse marinade that contained raw meat.
Cook food thoroughly: To kill any harmful bacteria that may be present, use a food thermometer. Hamburgers should be cooked to 160 degrees. If a thermometer is not available, make sure hamburgers are brown all the way through, not pink. Chicken should be cooked to at least 165 degrees. If you partially cook food in the microwave, oven or stove to reduce grilling time, do so immediately before the food goes on the hot grill.
Refrigerate and freeze food promptly: It can be hard to remember while a party is going on, but food should not be left out of the cooler or off the grill for more than two hours. Never leave food out for more than one hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees.
Keep hot food hot: Hot food should be kept at or above 135 degrees. Hot food should be wrapped well and placed in an insulated container. If bringing hot takeout food such as fried chicken or barbecue to an outdoor party, eat it within two hours of purchase. In addition to bringing a grill and fuel for cooking to an outdoor location, remember to pack a food thermometer to check that your meat and poultry reach a safe internal temperature. When reheating food at the outing, be sure it reaches 165 degrees.
Icebox etiquette: A full cooler will maintain its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled so it is important to pack plenty of extra ice or freezer packs to ensure a constant cold temperature. Keep the cooler out of the direct sun. Keep drinks in a separate cooler from foods. The beverage cooler will be opened frequently while the food cooler stays cold.
For information, go to http://gethealthycarsoncity.org, or visit us at www.facebook.com/cchhs.