Almost everyone loves cookouts and all the fixings that that go with them. Just one whiff of a grill in action can make you salivate. It seems that every weekend is a new opportunity to join family and friends in a barbecued feast. However, nothing spoils the memory of these get-togethers faster than food poisoning.
We’ve all seen meat and assorted salads sitting out awaiting hungry diners. But there may be some uninvited guests, namely bacteria, building communities on these summertime treats.
Food, even cooked food, can grow bacteria and be dangerous if allowed to get to room temperature. People worry about mayonnaise, but even a potato salad without mayonnaise would still be hazardous if allowed to warm to room temperature.
It is safest to put food away within an hour of serving. Contaminates are everywhere. Our hands can be a virtual hotbed of germs just looking for a place to set up shop. One of the best ways to prevent food poisoning is to wash your hands repeatedly so that whatever is on your hands is not transferred to your food.
If raw chicken or beef touches anything — skin, utensils or vegetables — the bacteria from the meat are transferred.
Food poisoning will cause a younger person to feel sick for a while, but can be fatal in an elderly person. Older folks can get dehydrated quickly.
As hot food cools, or cold food warms, any germs that were not completely killed during cooking will have a prime breeding ground. Warm and moist places are bacterium paradise.
So keep meat on the top rack of the grill, and keep salads on ice. When you are at a barbecue, remember that if a certain food is supposed to be hot and isn’t, don’t eat it. If it is supposed to be cold and isn’t, don’t eat it.
Here are few tips to help keep your next party safe:
• Wipe surfaces often, especially if they have been used for food preparation. Use a sanitizing solution of one cap of chlorine bleach per gallon of water for cleaning work area surfaces. Be sure to label the bottle carefully so it is not used for something else later, such as misting plants.
• Marinate food in the refrigerator, never on the sideboard, and never reuse the marinade.
• Keep flies away by covering trash containers. Don’t store meat wrappers and other trash, even for a short time, in open cardboard boxes or uncovered containers.
• Do not store food containers out in the open. Instead put them in the shade where they have a better chance of staying cool before being filled with leftovers.
• Keep plates, cups, utensils and food covered until ready to use.
• Don’t prepare and serve food if you have been sick within the past 24 hours.
• Pack plenty of paper towels for wiping hands and surfaces.
• Get a food thermometer. According to the fifth edition of the ServSafe course book used by the national Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, be sure to cook burgers to a sustained temperature of 155 degrees for 15 seconds, and poultry to 165 degrees for 15 seconds. ServSafe is the leading food safety training and certification program for food service professionals.
• Wash produce carefully and vigorously with water. I use a vegetable-based produce cleanser which removes even more grime.
It’s tempting to smell an item to determine freshness, but resist because something doesn’t have to smell bad to be bad. And clean is not the same thing as sanitized.
Basically, just keep hot food hot, cold food cold, wash your hands a lot and don’t touch your food too much. Oh, and have fun.
Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. Email Higgins Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, email email@example.com or visit http://www.EAAA.org. TTY 992-0150.