Pull out the grill and your red, white, and blue because the Fourth of July is here. This means gatherings, outdoor festivities, and good times with family and friends. As the meat sizzles on the grill, don’t let food safety fizzle out of your memory.
“Wherever you go this summer, don’t forget to bring your safe food handling practices along for the adventure,” said U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Sandra Eskin. “As temperatures rise, the risk for foodborne illness does too. Always remember that whether you’re grilling for the Fourth of July, camping, or boating, you should wash your hands before and during food prep.”
Whether you’re eating at home or outdoors at a park this Fourth of July, sanitation is key to combat foodborne illness. Be sure to wash your hands and sanitize your cooking area before preparing food. Safe food handling practices also help to avoid cross-contamination. Summertime brings additional unique challenges to food safety because of the warmer temperatures. Be sure to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold this Fourth of July, and don’t forget your food thermometer.
Clean and Sanitize
Always wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat and poultry. A recent USDA study (PDF, 1.3 MB) showed that 56% of participants didn’t attempt to wash their hands during meal preparation. When preparing your Fourth of July meal, don’t skip this step. Remember, hand sanitizer is not as effective as handwashing, but it’s better than nothing. If you’re out camping and have no access to running water, use hand sanitizer as a backup.
Wash surfaces and utensils with soap and warm water before cooking and after contact with raw meat and poultry. After cleaning surfaces that raw meat and poultry have touched, apply a commercial or homemade sanitizing solution (1 tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water). Use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
Cross-contamination is another risk to your summertime fun. Don’t let it spoil your plans or your food. Cross-contamination can happen even when grilling or getting food prepared to grill. In USDA’s recent observational study, 32% of participants contaminated plates and cutting boards and 12% contaminated spice containers while preparing food.
Be sure to wash hands thoroughly after handling raw meat. Any utensils that contacted raw meat must also be cleaned. Use separate plates for taking raw meat to the grill and then pulling cooked meat off the grill. USDA recommends using separate cutting boards; one for meat, and another for fruits and vegetables.
Keep Hot Foods Hot and Cold Foods Cold
Whether you’re transporting food to go hiking, camping, to a barbeque, or a picnic, the rule stays the same: keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Food is in the “Danger Zone” when it is in the temperature range of 40 F and 140 F. If in the “Danger Zone” for too long, bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels. Perishable foods (such as hamburgers, hotdogs, and chicken wings) should be discarded if left out longer than two hours, or one hour if outdoor or indoor temperatures in the area are above 90 F.
- Keep cold foods at a temperature of 40 F or below by keeping food nestled in ice, in a cooler with a cold source, or refrigerated until ready to serve.
- Keep hot foods at a temperature of 140 F or above by placing food on a grill, in a preheated oven, warming trays, chafing dishes or slow cookers.
The warmer the temperature, the sooner food needs to be refrigerated. Be sure to bring a cooler with ice to the next cookout to preserve any perishable foods.
Use a Food Thermometer
Many people use cues like grill marks, color, taste, and firmness to see if their food is fully cooked, but these tests come with great risk of getting food poisoning. Measuring the internal temperature of meat with a food thermometer is the safest way to see if your food is fully cooked. Be sure that the thermometer reaches the thickest part of the meat, through the side, for the most accurate temperature reading. USDA research showed that an alarmingly low number of participants in the control group, just 55%, relied on a food thermometer to determine if their food was safe to eat. This is a stark decline from the previous study where 77% used a food thermometer.
Whatever you’re cooking this summer, be sure to use a food thermometer. The following foods are safe to eat once they’ve reached these internal temperatures:
- Cook beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops and roasts to 145 F. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming.
- Cook fish to 145 F.
- Cook ground meats (beef, pork, lamb and veal) to 160 F.
- Cook ground beef, pork, lamb and veal to 160 F.
- Cook egg dishes to 160 F.
- Cook poultry (whole or ground) to 165 F.
These findings are part of a multi-year, mixed-method study that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) commissioned to evaluate various consumer food handling behaviors. The study uses test kitchens, focus groups and nationally representative surveys to better understand food safety practices and experiences with food recalls, foodborne illness, and FSIS food safety resources. More information about this study is available in an executive summary (PDF, 102 KB).
For more food safety information, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), email MPHotline@usda.gov or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.