Grilling season is here and that is great news for grillmasters across the Northland, as well as for those who get to enjoy the variety of meats they cook.
While it's hard to beat a great summer cookout with family and friends, if some basic prep and cooking rules aren't followed, things could take a turn for the worse. A bout with food poisoning is a horrible experience that we've probably all had to deal with at some point in our lives. If you haven't, you're lucky.
Thankfully, it's something that can be avoided by following some best practices established by the USDA, which start with when you first purchase the meat you plan on cooking.
When at the store, the USDA suggests you buy cold food like meat and poultry last, right before checking out. Be sure to separate raw meat and poultry from other food in your shopping cart. Also, to guard against cross-contamination that can happen when raw meat or poultry juices drip onto other food, you should put packages of raw meat and poultry into plastic bags.
Once you leave the store, drive directly home. To be extra safe, it's a great idea to take a cooler with ice for perishables. Either way, you should always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours. If the temperature is about 90°F, it should be refrigerated within 1 hour.
Once you get home, place meat and poultry in the refrigerator immediately. Freeze poultry and ground meat that won’t be used in 1 or 2 days and freeze other meat within 4 to 5 days. Keep in mind that when it comes to thawing frozen meat, you should use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing or thaw-sealed packages in cold water. It's also acceptable to use the microwave to defrost if the food will be placed immediately on the grill.
When it's time to cook, always wash your hands before and after handling food. Also, make sure the kitchen, dishes, and utensils are clean, and always serve food on clean plates. Be careful to keep food separated, especially raw meat, as cross-contamination can easily occur.
Have a food thermometer on hand while cooking and make sure to follow these temperatures guidelines:
- Poultry or fowl, whole or parts 165°F
- Ground poultry or fowl 165°F
- Ground beef, veal, pork, lamb, or venison 160°F
- Fresh beef, veal, pork, lamb, or venison 145°F
- Fish and shellfish, all kinds 145°F
- Eggs Until yolk and white are firm
- Egg dishes 160°F
After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it at 140°F or warmer until served. You can use the side of the grill rack to keep cooked meats hot. Cooked meat can also be kept hot in a warm oven (approximately 200°F), in a chafing dish, or on a warming tray.
Once you're done cooking and eating, be sure to put food away promptly rather than letting it sit out, which can allow bacteria to take over. In hot weather (above 90°F), food should never sit out for more than one hour. It's a best practice to refrigerate any leftovers promptly in shallow containers.
The USDA's Food and Grilling Safety page has a wealth of helpful information to ensure everyone has a great experience during and after their next cookout. Now, you'll have to excuse me, my beer is simmering perfectly on the stove so I must add the brats before going back out to the deck to flip the burgers.