Butler, Mo. – There’s something pleasingly primal about meat sizzling on an open flame. But, that juicy fare can cause problems if handled poorly.
Beef, poultry and pork grilled outdoors is a definite taste treat for us, but it’s a magnet for disease-causing bacteria if not kept cold or hot.
“Bacteria grow and multiply best at temperatures from 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Tammy Roberts, nutrition specialist for University of Missouri Extension.
Food safety starts at the grocery store. Roberts said buy meat and poultry right before checkout. Separate raw meat from the other foods in your shopping cart to prevent cross contamination.
“Raw meat juices can drip on other foods and contaminate them with bacteria,” Roberts said. “Even better, put packages of raw meat into plastics bags.”
Once you have your food bagged and paid for, it’s a good idea to drive straight home, Roberts said. Those perishables need to be in the refrigerator as soon as possible if it’s more than 90-degrees outside.
“Bacteria double in number about every 15 minutes in 90-degree weather,” Roberts said.
According to Roberts, these safety rules hold true for other perishable items like eggs, sandwich meats, cheese and foods made with mayonnaise.
Once you’re ready to prepare the food for grilling, start by washing your hands with soap and water. Roberts said it’s important to wash your hands before and after handling raw meat.
Thawing meats safely is also very important. Roberts said never defrost meat on the kitchen counter. Frozen meat sitting at room temperature will thaw on the outside first while the inside is still frozen. That room-temperature outer layer is perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
“Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing, “Roberts said. “If you’re really in a hurry, you can thaw sealed packages in cold water.”
She said you can defrost meat in the microwave, but it must go straight to the grill when the “done” bell rings.
Grilling season is often the time when we want to whip up our favorite marinade. Roberts said marinate the meat in the refrigerator and when the process is finished, throw out the marinade.
“People tend to want to use the marinade as a dipping sauce after the meat is cooked,” Roberts said. “But, that’s a really bad idea because there’s bacteria in that sauce.”
Once the prep work is done it’s time to toss the rack of ribs or juicy burgers on the hot coals. This is the time to bring out the food thermometer. It’s the best way to be sure that food reaches a safe minimum internal temperature.
“Hamburgers should reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit, chicken breasts should reach 165 degrees, beef, veal, and lamb steaks can be cooked to 145 degrees. Pork should also reach 145 degrees but should be held on the grill for 3 minutes at that temperature,” Roberts said.
When the meat is ready, put it on a clean plate. If you place it on the same plate that carried the raw meat, you’ll contaminate your dinner with the bacteria from the raw juices, Roberts said.
Grilling out is part of the fun of picnics or camping. If you’ll be carrying food to another location, a cooler is an absolute must. Roberts said remember the number one rule of food safety: keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
“All perishable foods, especially meats, should be in a cooler filled with ice or ice packs,” Roberts said. “It’s also important to keep the cooler cool. Don’t transport it in a hot car trunk, and don’t leave it sitting out in the hot sun.”
After everyone has eaten their fill, don’t forget the leftovers.
“Leftovers need special care,” Roberts said. “They need to be put back in the cooler, or refrigerator, where they’ll be stored at or below 40 degrees.”
Just a few simple food safety practices will help assure that everyone has a good meal and no one goes home sick.