Outdoor Food Safety Tips for Labor Day
The last big weekend of summer is approaching. By now we’re all grill experts and have gotten into the groove. However, that groove can be full of bad habits learned slowly throughout lazy summer weekends.
For this reason I’m taking the opportunity to remind you of some food safety tips.
- Cooking outside does not give you permission to become a ball of grime. Wash your hands with soap and water often.
- You may be outside with the bugs and the dirt but nobody wants that stuff on their food. All of your food needs to be prepared on a clean work surface.
- If you’re prepping indoors, make sure your counters are clean (I wipe mine with a clean warm soapy cloth regularly while cooking. Once a day I mix a couple of tablespoons of bleach with 1 cup of water and do a thorough wipe down with that mixture).
- Use a different clean cutting board for each type of meat that you’re using AND switch cutting boards when you switch from meat to another type of ingredient like cheese or vegetables. Same goes for knives and other utensils. Not doing so can lead to some nasty cross-contamination.
- When doing your prep work outdoors you should still clean and disinfect the work surfaces before using them. However, if you are still unsure about the cleanliness, make friends with some aluminum foil: Get out a roll, cut off a big piece and lay it on your work surface. Prepare your food on this foil and you’ll protect yourself a bit from whatever might still be lurking underneath.
- Be sure to use a new piece of foil when you change from preparing one kind of meat to another or if you’re switching between meat to another type of ingredient thus avoiding the cross-contamination discussed above.
- It is not true that meat needs to be at room temperature before cooking. Doing so is just begging for food poisoning.
- Meat should not spend more than 10 minutes outside of the refrigerator before it is cooked. This is the 10 minutes that you spend adding some seasoning and oil. Any longer encourages the development of bacteria that leads to food poisoning.
- And in actual fact, your steak will get a better char if it hits the grill while cold. This is because the cold meat takes longer to reach the desired internal temperature and is thus in contact with the heat for longer.
- This is also true for larger cuts. The longer they’re on the grill, the better that dark exterior coating becomes. Having the meat cold when it hits the grill slows the cooking time resulting in more time on the grill.
- And if you’re doing some smoking, putting cool meat on the grill gives you a better smoke ring.
- Beef steaks and roasts need to be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145ºF. I know! I know! That’s the medium or even medium-well range, which many people are not fond of. If you want to take the risk of eating beef that has been cooked to a lower temperature, that is your risk to take. However, be aware of the risks AND do not assume that others want to take this jump along with you.
- Check with your guests about how they like their meat cooked.
- Read through these guidelines about checking meat temperature from the USDA.
- Beyond all, do not ever serve beef below 145º to a young child, a pregnant woman or anyone who is immunocompromised.
- Pork, lamb and veal also need to be cooked to a minimum of 145ºF.
- Poulty (including ground poultry) needs to be cooked to 165ºF.
- Ground beef, pork, lamb and veal needs to reach 160ºF. Yes, this means that your burgers need to be well done. Again, feel free to ignore me but please be respectful of others’ wishes and of their special needs.
- A grill needs to be cleaned after every use. Think of it like your stove top. You wipe that down after every meal, right? The grill is the same. The best thing to do is to heat the grill up high after you’re done cooking and then use a wire brush to remove food particles and grease. You also need to do a good cleaning semi-annually or annually. Check out this video and these tips for cleaning your grill.
- Cooking outside is fun and the food tastes great. Try to make these tips part of your groove so you can eat, have fun and keep everyone safe.
Happy Labor Day!