On summer evenings, the go-to at our home is to fire up the grill. In fact, we are one of THOSE families that grills during all four seasons. This year our schedules have slowed down, and we are enjoying our favorite grilled burgers, chops, steaks, chicken and even fresh veggies. And while cooking outside may feel more laid back than stovetop cooking, that doesn’t mean we can relax our focus on food safety precautions.
Great care is taken to protect our food and make sure it reaches us safely. On farms, trainings like Beef Quality Assurance, National Dairy FARM Program (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) and Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA Plus) outline best practices for animal care – but also for food safety. An audit program makes sure workers properly use their training and assures consumers that farmers are protecting food safety.
In meat processing plants, food companies follow many requirements to ensure food is safe. They comply with the Federal Meat Inspection Act, as well as the many regulations and directives that have been added over the years. Inspectors from the Department of Agriculture are continuously present in meatpacking plants and oversee compliance with a wide array of regulatory requirements that make sure the meat we buy is safe.
The final but critical link in the food chain lies with us as we prepare food at home. For the best grilling experience, I use guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration for handling food safely.
- Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from other foods – in your shopping cart and grocery bags.
- Meat and other perishables should be refrigerated as quickly as possible after purchasing. Make the grocery store the last stop on your errand run so you can go straight home. On hot summer days, consider using insulated bags or coolers, especially if you live a distance from the store. The FDA recommends refrigerating foods within two hours. If the temperature is above 90 degrees, refrigerate foods within one hour.
- Wash your hands. We’ve been hearing this a lot lately and it is so important. Wash with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds, and sing these songs if you’re so inclined! Re-wash your hands after handling food.
- Wash all other food contact surfaces. This includes cutting boards, countertops, knives and utensils.
- Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
- Do not rinse raw meat or poultry before cooking it. This could spread germs around your kitchen.
- Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags, and refrigerator.
- Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
- Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs unless the plate has been washed in hot, soapy water.
- Thaw meat properly – either in the refrigerator, cold water or microwave. Do not allow to thaw at room temperature.
- Marinate foods in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Discard any marinade that was used on raw meat.
- Cook all meat to the proper temperature.
- Beef, pork, lamb, and veal (steaks, roasts, and chops): 145°F (with a 3-minute rest time after removal from grill)
- Ground meats (including burgers and hot dogs): 160°F
- Whole poultry, poultry breasts, and ground poultry: 165°F
- Fish: 145°F
- The only way to be sure food has reached the proper temperature is with a food thermometer. Place the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat without touching bone, fat or gristle.
- Clean the thermometer with hot water and soap before and after each use.
Chill & Reheat
- Refrigerate leftovers as quickly as possible after the meal.
- Leftover food should be eaten within 3 to 4 days or discarded.
- Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees.
As we are all working to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, I hope you get the chance to use this time at home to relax, fire up the grill, and safely enjoy your perfectly seared meats.