With Memorial Day, the official start of the summer grilling season, only a few days away, many Middle Georgia residents are preparing for barbecues and cookouts.
What residents may not be preparing for is the possibility of becoming sick from a food-borne illness after savoring a juicy hamburger or fresh salad at a cookout. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that one in six Americans experience a food-borne illness each year, the threat of a food-borne illness ruining your Memorial Day weekend is a very likely possibility if foods are not handled safely. To keep food-borne illnesses at bay, UGA Extension recommends that you take proper precautions during preparation, cooking, serving and storage of holiday meals.
To prepare frozen meat and poultry for cooking, thaw the items in the refrigerator or in sealed, plastic bags under cold water. If the foods will be grilled immediately, the items can be defrosted in the microwave. Marinate meat and poultry in the refrigerator and never on the counter. Only place remaining marinade on cooked meats if you have first boiled the marinade.
Corn on the cob, tomatoes and onions make excellent accompaniments to any barbecue. However, you must be sure to keep this produce separated from raw meats and poultry to prevent cross contamination.
When cooking meats, ensure that each item has reached the proper temperature before removing it from the grill. Beef, pork, lamb, veal steaks, chops and roasts should all be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees as measured with a food thermometer.
For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, you may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.
Raw ground beef, pork, lamb and veal should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees, and poultry should be cooked to at least 165 degrees.
Meat thermometers should be inserted into the thickest part of the meat to measure internal temperature. This can be a bit tricky for hamburgers as you must insert the thermometer into the side of the burger patties.
Remember, the color of meats and/or their juice is never a reliable indicator of doneness when it comes to food safety.
If you will be cooking away from home, be sure to check that there is a clean water source at your location. If there is not a water source, carry water for preparation and cleaning with you.
Once your foods are cooked, the dishes should stay out of the temperature danger zone (41 degrees-135 degrees). The microbes that make us sick, including escherichia coli O157:H7 and salmonella, can rapidly multiply within this temperature range. Hot foods should be immediately served and refrigerated within two hours of being cooked.
The sweltering Georgia temperatures are forecast to exceed 90 degrees over the Memorial Day weekend. In these temperatures, foods should be left out no longer than one hour.
Ready-to-eat salads (coleslaw, potato salad, etc.) and other perishable, cold foods should be kept in a cooler to prevent growth of harmful microorganisms. Be sure to place the cooler in the shade and out of direct sunlight.
Now that you know the keys to preparing, cooking and serving foods safely, you can help prevent food pathogens from spoiling your Memorial Day barbecue.
Rebecca Creasy is the Houston County Extension agent for food and nutrition and family and consumer sciences. Contact her at 478-987-2028 or firstname.lastname@example.org.