By Rita R. Robison
When celebrating this Fourth of July, take steps to avoid food poisoning.
Warm temperatures encourage the growth of bacteria, and cases of food-related illnesses rise during summer months.
Small children and the elderly are among the most vulnerable to foodborne illness, Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for food safety, said in a statement.
An infographic on safe food handling, created by the USDA in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, and Ad Council, features food safety tips for consumers from the founding fathers. Fact sheets, videos, and podcasts about safe food handling and preparation in warmer months also are available.
Follow these four steps to reduce your chances of getting food poisoning:
Start with clean surfaces and clean hands. Be sure you and your guests wash your hands before preparing or handling food. Hands should be washed with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food. In addition, make sure that the surfaces that come in contact with raw and cooked foods are clean before you start and are washed frequently.
Separate raw meats and poultry from vegetables and cooked foods. As you chop meats and vegetables, be sure to use separate cutting boards. Juices from raw meats can contain harmful bacteria that could spread to raw vegetables and already cooked foods.
As you remove cooked meats from the grill, be sure to put them on a clean platter, not on the dish that held them when they were raw. The juices left on the plate from raw meat can spread bacteria to safely cooked food.
Begin cooking with your most important tool – a food thermometer. Color isn’t a reliable indicator of doneness. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often brown quickly and may appear done on the outside, but still may not have reached a safe minimum internal temperature to kill any harmful bacteria.
Whole cuts of pork, lamb, veal, and beef need to be cooked to 145 °F as measured by a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, followed by a three-minute rest time before carving or eating. Hamburgers and other ground beef should reach 160 °F. All poultry needs to reach a minimum temperature of 165 °F. Fish should be cooked to 145 °F. Fully cooked meats such as hot dogs need to be grilled to 165 °F or until steaming hot.
Keep food at a safe temperature at outdoor picnics and cookouts. Too often, food is prepared and left to sit out while guests munch over the course of several hours. Bacteria grow most rapidly between 40 °F and 140 °F, so perishable food should never sit out for more than two hours. If the temperature is higher than 90 °F, food shouldn’t sit out more than one hour. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers promptly and discard any food that has been sitting out too long.
It’s important to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot foods can be kept hot on the grill and cold foods can be kept chilled with ice packs or ice sources in a cooler.
Ask Karen, if you have questions
Whether you’re cooking in the kitchen or grilling outside this Independence Day, you can direct questions to Ask Karen, USDA's virtual food safety representative available 24/7 at www.AskKaren.gov or m.AskKaren.gov on your smartphone.
Consumers can e-mail, chat with a live representative, or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline directly from these apps.
The live chat option and the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline, 888-674-6854, are available in English and Spanish from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.