Independence Day! It’s all about celebrations, get-togethers, barbecues and lots and lots of food.
It should also be all about cooking safely — so no one goes home from your get-together celebrating a bellyache or worse because bacteria like salmonella, listeria or E. coli that can cause food-borne illness crashed your cookout.
So, here are five helpful tips from the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health to help you make your Fourth of July or summer celebration tasty, safe and great: Plan Ahead, Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.
- Before you start cooking, decide how much food you can safely serve. For example, figure out how much cooking and refrigerated space you have to work with. You don’t want meats and perishables (like Uncle Jim’s egg salad) sitting out — on the counter at room temperature or outside in the heat — where bacteria can grow quickly. You do want to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
- If you have to defrost meats, fish or poultry, give yourself enough time to safely defrost them slowly in your refrigerator. (Defrosting in the open air or in still water spurs bacterial growth.)
- Have your meat thermometer ready.
- Always buy food from a safe source, such as a market or restaurant.
- Don’t let bacteria into your meal. Wash your hands before and after handling food, or when switching tasks or food types.
- Thoroughly rinse raw fruits and vegetables.
- Wash and sanitize counters, food prep areas, cutting boards and the equipment you’re using before and after preparing the different parts of your meal.
- Keep fruits and vegetables separated from raw meat products.
- When defrosting meats and poultry, put them on a plate or pan at the bottom of your refrigerator to safely thaw so that they don’t drip on other food.
- Try to use separate cutting boards for meat and produce — fruits and vegetables. If you can’t, cut your produce before cutting meats and make sure you thoroughly wash your cutting board between uses with hot, soapy water.
- When you’re cooking meat, always use your meat thermometer to make sure the meat is being thoroughly cooked, inside and out. This can be especially important if you’re barbecuing because meat and poultry brown fast on a grill and look like they’re thoroughly cooked before they’re ready. Ground meat and sausages, poultry, beef, pork and ham roasts all require different safe cooking temperatures.
For example, ground beef and sausages should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 F; poultry to 165 F; and beef, pork and ham roasts to 145 F (and allowed to rest for 3 minutes to continue cooking). Here are links to more comprehensive internal cooking guides from the United States Department of Agriculture and FoodSafety.gov.
- Keep cold foods cold — keep meat and poultry refrigerated until you’re ready to cook. If you’re barbecuing, keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to put it on the grill. When you’re using a cooler, don’t place it in direct sunlight; keep it in the shade. Open the cooler only when you have to because it lets the cold air out and warm air in. Put beverages in one cooler and meats, poultry and other perishables in another.
For more information and food safety tips, go to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service’s Food Safety Education Web page or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854.