Food Safety Tips While Grilling this Summer

Story provided by Oklahoma State University Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center

The first day of summer was June 20, and the warm weather calls for days spent poolside and evenings cooking on the grill.

While the summer months are known for cookouts, picnics, and other fun-filled activities, meal preparation and food safety should still be at the forefront of the backyard chef’s mind, said Ravi Jadeja, food safety specialist for the Oklahoma State University Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center.

Foodborne illness peaks during the warmer season, as the hot, humid weather serves as a place for harmful bacteria to grow, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

“Food safety isn’t just for food manufacturing plants; it is important for consumers to be mindful of food safety in the home as well as preparing meals away from the home,” Jadeja said. “Using good food-handling practices and cooking foods to proper temperatures are just a couple of reminders to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.”

The FAPC team offers the following food safety tips when utilizing the grill over the next few summer months.

Preparing foods for the grill

  • To ensure meat and poultry cook evenly, completely thaw meats in the refrigerator before grilling.
  • Never thaw meats on a countertop or in a sink – only utilize the refrigerator. Thawing at room temperature increases the risk of bacteria growth on the surface of the meat, even though the interior may still be chilled.
  • Marinate meat in the refrigerator rather than the counter, where bacteria can multiply.
  • Discard leftover marinade and do not use it on cooked foods as a dressing or dipping sauce. The leftover marinade can contain bacteria that make it unsafe for consumption.
  • Wash hands thoroughly before and after preparing any food product.

Cooking food on the grill

  • Always use a food thermometer to ensure the meat is thoroughly cooked.
  • Cooked meat to the following proper internal temperatures:
    • Beef, pork, lamb and veal: 145 degrees Fahrenheit (allow three minutes to rest before consuming)
    • Ground meats: 160 degrees Fahrenheit
    • Chicken: 165 degrees Fahrenheit

Picnic cookouts and barbecues

  • Use an insulated cooler filled with ice, frozen gel packs, or other frozen food to serve as a cold source.
  • A full cooler can maintain its chilled temperature longer than a partially filled one.
  • Avoid placing a cooler in direct sunlight.
  • Avoid repeatedly opening the cooler so food stays colder, longer.
  • Certain foods always must be kept cold such as raw meat, poultry, seafood, deli and luncheon meats, sandwiches, summer salads, cut-up fruit and vegetables, and perishable dairy products.
  • Cover food such as cooked hamburgers or hotdogs, condiments, cheese slices, and others with a clear cover or wrap to prevent flies from landing and spreading their germs.

Storing and eating leftovers

  • Store leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours after cooking.
  • Divide leftover into smaller portions and store them in shallow, airtight containers. These leftovers should then be eaten within three to four days.
  • Consider freezing large amounts of leftovers for later use. Freeze immediately and eat within six months.
  • Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and do not consume leftovers that look or smell strange.

FAPC, a part of OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, helps to discover, develop and deliver technical and business information that stimulates and supports the growth of value-added food and agricultural products and processing in Oklahoma.