Avoid Making Mis-Steaks: Food Safety While Grilling This Summer

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Grilling is a great way to enjoy the summer, especially since it keeps you from heating up the entire house in pursuit of a meal! However, there are food safety concerns that come along with grilling that you might not consider compared to just cooking inside. Let’s discuss how to grill deliciously and safely this summer by going over safe practices for food preparation, grill use, and checking for proper internal temperature.

Food Preparation

Preparing food to be grilled may seem like the easiest part, but there are still plenty of safety considerations to keep in mind. It is always important to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before starting to help remove any dirt or bacteria that is present. When handling raw meats, be sure to wash your hands before touching other ready-to-eat foods so that pathogens found on uncooked meat and poultry are not spread to those foods. A helpful practice to minimize cross-contamination is to use a designated cutting board and utensils for raw meat and another for ready-to-eat items. You can also make it fun by color-coding them!

When it comes to storing food before it goes on the grill, it is important to know that using refrigerators may not be a full-proof method for keeping your food cool! Check your fridges to ensure they are staying at or below 41°F to prevent bacterial growth and food spoilage. Most fridges have a thermometer inside that you can reference to make sure the temperature is staying cool enough.

Thawing out frozen foods like burgers is another way that food is commonly mishandled. If you want to thaw items quickly, while tempting, you should never just sit them on the counter. It is best practice to put them in cool water and change the water out every 30 minutes. If you are using the microwave to thaw the item, it should be cooked immediately afterwards since the microwave makes the food hotter, which helps bacteria to grow! You can also skip thawing altogether and cook the food from frozen; you should expect the food to take around 50% longer to cook to a safe internal temperature based on the instructions if it was thawed. If incorporating a marinade, also keep marinated food in the fridge. You should either discard or boil leftover marinade juice once the meat is done.

Grill Use:

Using a grill combined with summer weather will make it feel like a furnace outside, so make sure to keep hydrated while using the grill. Keep water nearby and rehydrate often. When deciding meat doneness, remember that color, texture, and taste of food are not adequate methods for determining whether meats are cooked properly. Foodborne illnesses are more likely to occur if contaminated food is consumed raw or undercooked. Recommended cooking temperatures are determined based on the temperature needed to reduce bacteria to a safe level for consumption, but this does not mean they are not present. To properly measure the temperature of a steak or burger, insert a food thermometer from the side and push it to the middle of the item. Allow the thermometer time to stabilize to the temperature inside the meat so that you can get a proper reading.

Temperature Safety:

During food preparation, harmful bacteria can begin to grow when it is between 41°F and 135 °F. We refer to this temperature range as the “Temperature Danger Zone.” Perishable food products like cooked veggies, fruits, grains, and cheeses should be disposed of after four hours out at room temperature, or one hour if kept outdoors at a temperature over 90°F.

Different meats have different recommended internal cooking temperatures that need to be reached to kill enough pathogenic microorganisms to be safe to eat. There are charts listing the safe minimum internal cooking temperature for meat that you can reference on websites like foodsafety.gov. Keep them in mind and always use a food thermometer to check internal temperatures to assess doneness because color, texture, and taste of food are not adequate methods for determining whether they are cooked properly. Seafood items like shrimp, crab, crawfish, scallops and lobster should be cooked until they reach 145°F and will be opaque in color. Whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, and fish should also reach 145°F. Ground meat like burgers should reach 155°F. Poultry or stuffed products should reach 165°F internally.

Grilling is an overall great way to enjoy the summer and many different types of food, and keeping yourself and your food safe makes it an even better experience for you and the ones you cook for. Stay safe and try to stay cool!

For more information contact N.C. Cooperative Extension in Lee County at 919-775-5624.

Jenna Taylor is the Summer Intern with North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.