By Ronald G. Rios
Middlesex County Freeholder, Chairperson
Committee of Public Health and Education
Grilling and eating outdoors during the summer months can be fun, but can also be dangerous if the proper food safety procedures are not followed. When perishable food is left out for too long, warmer weather can bring with it an increased risk of food-borne illness.
The reason for this increased risk is that harmful bacteria (pathogens) can grow faster at warmer temperatures. The temperatures at which pathogens will grow the fastest are between 90 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit (the “danger zone”). Since summertime temperatures are often in or near the danger zone, it is important to make sure that foods are handled properly and kept at the right temperatures.
You should always use safe practices when handling and preparing food, but there are some additional safety measures you should take to in the summertime.
You can minimize your family’s risk of food poisoning by following these simple guidelines about food safety:
Wash hands – Hands are a primary source of bacterial contamination. Wash hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water before handling food. It is especially critical to wash hands after using the bathroom, after sneezing and after handling raw meats.
Do not cross contaminate – Cross contamination occurs when bacteria from raw meat contaminate ready-to-eat or fully cooked foods. Keep raw meats and raw meat juices away from cooked meats and ready-to-eat foods. Never put cooked meats on the same plate that previously held raw meats.
Cook foods thoroughly – Bacteria that cause foodborne illness are destroyed when foods are cooked to the proper temperature. Cook steaks to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, burgers to 155 degrees Fahrenheit and chicken to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Check the inside temperature of the meat with a thermometer. Instant read thermometers are commonly available at supermarkets and discount stores.
Serve foods, then refrigerate promptly – Leave foods outside for as short a time as possible, but never longer than 2 hours. As soon as everyone has eaten, put the food in the refrigerator. Your refrigerator temperature should be at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. The foods can be served again later. Consider putting out small portions of items such as potato salad or macaroni salads and replacing them as needed in clean serving bowls.
Keep all of your summer activities fun, by making sure your food remains safe. If you have any questions regarding food safety, please contact the Middlesex County Public Health Department Inspection Division at 732-745-3100.
For further information on food safety visit these websites: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Safe_Food_Handling_Fact_Sheets/index.asp
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