Mary Koch: Don’t let food poisoning ruin your good time |

Mary Koch: Don’t let food poisoning ruin your good time

Mary C. Koch

Warm weather is the best time for grilling your favorite foods outside, but there also is an increased need for awareness of safe food handling practices. By keeping these few safety tips in mind you will ensure that your good time won’t be clouded by food poisoning

Food safety is literally in your hands, so start by washing them. Keeping your hands clean before, during and after food preparation is the best way to avoid food borne illness and cross contamination. Clean your cooking surfaces often with hot, soapy water to make doubly sure.

When marinating raw meat, fish, or poultry, it’s safest to do so in a glass dish in the refrigerator. Letting meat sit out on the counter at room temperature to marinate is just asking for trouble. Marinades give grilled meat a nice flavor, but if you want to baste the meat while it cooks be sure to have fresh marinade. The marinade you used for the meat can have bacteria in it and isn’t a good choice for basting.

To save time grilling, many people prefer to pre-cook meat or poultry ahead of time and then finish up cooking on the grill. This is safe to do only if the food goes immediately from the microwave or range to the grill. If you think of it as all one cooking process and cook the meat thoroughly all at once, you will avoid problems. Interrupted cooking is risky business. If you must cook ahead, cook the meat completely and then cool it fast for reheating on the grill later.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to cook all food thoroughly. The best way to know if your meat or poultry is completely cooked is to use a meat thermometer. Large cuts of beef like roasts may be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees for medium rare and 160 degrees for medium. Whole poultry should reach 180 degrees. Just because the outside looks good doesn’t mean the inside temperature is high enough to kill bacteria. It’s always a good idea to take an “exploratory” cut into any patties, poultry, meat, or fish to check doneness. Juices should be clear and meat should not be pink.

For safety and quality, the coals should be very hot before cooking food. It can take 30 minutes or longer before the coals are ready. They should show a light coating of ash for optimal heat. For gas grills, make sure that the heat is up high enough to adequately cook the meat.

For information about grilling or other questions about safe handling of foods, visit They have an excellent collection of timely articles and resources. And don’t forget about the Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888- MPHotline (1-888-674-5854) to speak with a food safety specialist in English or Spanish. They also have a voice guided menu of recorded food safety messages may be heard 24 hours a day. Additional online resources include and

Mary Koch is a Registered Dietitian at Banner Churchill Community Hospital and the VA Lahontan Valley Outpatient Clinic. Send your nutrition questions to Mary at