Take care with barbecue, picnic food

Food borne illness is an unwanted guest at any party, and with July 4 around the corner, everyone should be aware of the proper food safety techniques to ensure guests and partygoers have a happy and healthy experience.

For those of us planning barbecues and picnics, Cheryl Luptowski, home safety expert at NSF International, created a list of picnic and grilling safety tips.

Did you know that you should:

—Throw out leftovers from picnics.

—Refrain from preparing foods more than 24-hours in advance.

—Avoid bringing dishes that contain eggs and homemade mayonnaise.

NSF International, a nonprofit public health and safety organization, offers a list of their food safety tips:

Picnic Food Safety Tips

1) Put perishable foods (i.e. hot dogs, cut fruits and salads) in individual containers on the bottom of the cooler with ice packs on the top. This method provides the best insulation for foods that need to remain cool and helps prevent cross contamination.

2) Put cold drinks (i.e. sodas, juices, etc.) in a separate cooler. This method avoids having the cooler containing perishable foods to constantly be opened and closed.

3) Carry the cooler in the passenger area of the car. Keeping the cooler in the passenger area instead of in the trunk allows the air conditioning to help keep the contents cool.

4) Wash produce such as melons prior to serving. Bacteria can be present on the exterior of melons and can be carried into the edible section when cutting it.

5) Avoid taking dishes to a picnic that contain eggs, homemade mayonnaise or milk and other dairy products as they are prone to growing bacteria. Store-bought mayonnaise alone is OK, but could pose an issue when mixed with other foods that are not acidic.

6) Do not prepare foods more than one day before your picnic unless it is to be frozen. Cooking foods in advance allows for more opportunities for bacteria to grow.

7) Remember the one-hour rule. Do not consume any perishable foods that have been sitting out an hour or more on days where the temperature is above 90 F.

8) Throw out leftovers. Since most picnic leftovers have been sitting out for more than one hour and have had many people handling them, throw them out. The more time that food has been sitting at unsafe temperatures, the more likely harmful bacteria has grown.

Grilling Tips to Remember

1) Start with a clean kitchen. According to a germ study by NSF International, the kitchen sponge and kitchen sink were the germiest places in the home — items that are typically used in multiple stages of the cooking and cleaning process. Avoid cross-contamination by ensuring these items are clean by:

a. Microwave wet sponges for two minutes once per day and replacing them often — every two weeks or more as needed. A better option for kitchen cleaning are dishcloths, towels and rags. These items can be sanitized by washing on the clothes washer’s hot water cycle with bleach. Replace every 1-2 days.

b. Washing and disinfecting the sides and bottom of the sink 1-2 times per week with a disinfecting cleaner. Sanitize kitchen drains and disposals monthly by pouring a solution of one teaspoon household bleach in one quart of water down the drain. Wash kitchen sink strainers in the dishwasher weekly.

2. Defrost foods safely. Don’t attempt to defrost foods quickly by leaving them sit overnight on a kitchen counter. Use one of the following methods:

a. Option I — Place a covered food in a shallow pan on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator.

b. Option II — Defrost the food item in the microwave, but keep in mind that you must finish cooking the food immediately thereafter, as some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during the microwave defrosting process.

c. Option III — If there is not enough time to thaw frozen foods, it is safe to cook foods from the frozen state. However, the cooking will take approximately 50 percent longer than the recommended time for fully thawed or fresh meat and poultry.

3) Practice proper marinating. If marinating food, marinate in a refrigerator overnight and dispose of any leftover marinade that has been in contact with raw meat. While acids in marinades can help tenderize meat, too much vinegar or hot sauce can cause meat to be more stringy and tough.

4) Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot foods need to be kept at temperatures above 140 F and cold foods less than 40 F. Between these two temperatures, bacteria can multiply very rapidly and reach dangerous levels in as little as two hours.

5) Don’t cook with your eyes; cook with a thermometer. In order to ensure food has reached a safe internal temperature, always use a certified food thermometer. Any leftovers should be put away within two hours (one hour if the temperature is above 90° F).

6) Avoid cross contamination. Since bacteria can easily spread from one food to the next via dripping juices, hands or utensils, think ahead to avoid cross contamination. Don’t use the same utensils and plates for raw and cooked foods, and always remember to wash your hands before preparing and consuming food.

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