July 26, 2008

Outdoor Cooking Safety Reminders

Cooking outdoors is in full swing. And that means cooks need to observe food-safety guidelines to prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying and causing food-borne illness. Here are safety reminders from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

- Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Poultry and cubed meat or stew meat can be marinated for as long as two days. Beef, veal, pork, and lamb roasts, chops and steaks may be marinated as long as five days.

If some of the marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve some marinade before putting raw meat and poultry in it. If the marinade used on raw meat or poultry is to be reused, make sure to let it first come to a boil to destroy harmful bacteria.

- When carrying food to another location, keep it cold to minimize bacterial growth. Use an insulated cooler with enough ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 degrees or colder. Pack food right from the refrigerator immediately into the cooler before leaving home.

- Keep meat and poultry refrigerated until ready to use. If using a cooler for meat, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or shelter. Avoid opening the lid too often, which lets cold air out and warm air in. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in a separate cooler.

- Be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters. Don't use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria in raw meat and poultry and their juices can contaminate safely cooked food.

- Precooking food partially in the microwave, oven or stove is a good way to reduce grilling time. But make sure the food goes immediately on the preheated grill to complete the cooking.

- Cook food to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns quickly on the outside. Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature.

Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts and chops can be cooked to 145 degrees. Hamburgers made of ground beef and all cuts of pork should reach 160 degrees. All poultry should reach a minimum of 165 degrees.

- Never partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking it later.

- When reheating hot dogs and other fully cooked meats, grill to 165 degrees, when steaming hot.

- After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it at 140 degrees or warmer until served. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals, where they could overcook.

- In temperatures above 90 degrees, food should never sit out for more than one hour.

- Promptly refrigerate leftovers in shallow containers. Discard any food left out more than two hours, or one hour if temperatures are above 90 degrees.

- Smoking is cooking food indirectly in the presence of a fire. Smoking is done much more slowly than grilling, so less-tender meats benefit from this method, and a natural smoke flavoring permeates the meat. The temperature in the smoker should be maintained at 250 degrees to 300 degrees for safety.

- Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe internal temperature.

- Some studies suggest that there might be a cancer risk related to eating food cooked by high-heat cooking techniques, such as grilling, frying and broiling. Based on current research findings, eating moderate amounts of grilled fish, meat and poultry that are cooked to a safe temperature without charring does not pose a problem.

To prevent charring, remove visible fat that can cause a flare- up. Precook meat in the microwave immediately before placing it on the grill to release some of the juices that can drop on coals.

Cook food in the center of the grill and move coals to the side to prevent fat and juices from dripping on them. Cut charred portions off the meat.

Originally published by THOMPSON; McClatchy Newspapers.

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