Living Columns & Blogs

Play it safe this grilling season

Keishon Thomas
Keishon Thomas

Are you looking forward to the long weekend as much as I am? Monday is Memorial Day, which marks a time to remember those who died serving in the United States military. Many in Middle Georgia will have the day off from work and mark the holiday with barbecues, parades and picnics.

Unfortunately, many gatherings also will include a special guest — bacteria. The risk of foodborne illness increases in warmer weather because disease-causing bacteria grow faster on raw meat and poultry products in a warm environment. Spring and summer weather in Georgia, often hot, provides the perfect condition.

In the spirit of a safe grilling season, Macon-Bibb Cooperative Extension is providing these important recommendations to grillers:

In the beginning there was washing: I know hand sanitizer has become a staple in our society; however, as your mom always said, “wash your hands.” Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing when soap and water aren’t available. They should not, however, be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water. Washing frequently can also assist in reducing bacteria. Be safe by thoroughly washing hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. Hand washing is one of the simplest yet effective ways to help reduce the threat of foodborne illness.

Safe at the plate: One of the most common mistakes people make is cross contaminating food items by transferring bacteria from raw meat and poultry to other foods. Serving cooked food on the same plate that was used to transport the raw meat or poultry from the kitchen to the grill is common. So is using the same spatula, fork or tongs to place raw food on the grill and later using the same utensil to remove the food after it has been fully cooked. As my daughter would say, “eww.” These common practices facilitate cross-contamination and could prove to be dangerous. So this Memorial Day keep it safe by using separate plates and utensils — one for raw foods and one for cooked foods. Your stomach will thank you.

Chill out: A cooler is a valuable tool at outdoor gatherings. Not only does it serve as a vehicle for transporting food, it can also play a critical role in reducing the chances of foodborne illness. Drinks aren't the only food products that should be chilled. Popular picnic items like hot dogs, raw hamburgers and salads should be packed in a cooler with enough ice or freezer packs to keep the temperature inside at 40 degrees or below. It is equally important to play it safe by refrigerating or putting leftovers and perishables back on ice after eating. Cold foods need to be kept cold (40 degrees or lower). Use coolers, ice packs and ice to maintain these temperatures.

Some like it hot: Hot foods such as barbecue ribs, sausage and baked beans (my personal favorites) should be eaten within two hours and within one hour if the temperature exceeds 90 degrees. Warning — Middle Georgia temperatures will hover at 89 degrees throughout the holiday weekend. My family can never get together for less than four hours, so it’s imperative that we keep uneaten cooked foods warm. Hot foods need to be kept hot (140 degrees or higher). Use the grill, chafing dishes and warming trays to maintain these safe temperatures.

Play it safe this holiday weekend and keep bacteria away from your gatherings.

Contact county Extension agent Keishon J. Thomas at 478-751-6338 or