Almost everyone loves cookouts and all the fixings 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 can be dangerous if allowed to get to room temperature. For instance, 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 put food away within an hour of serving.
Contaminates are everywhere. Our hands can be virtual hotbeds 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, such as skin, utensils or vegetables, the bacteria from the meat is transferred.
Food poisoning would cause a younger person to feel sick for a while, but could be fatal in an elderly person. And, they can get dehydrated very quickly.
As hot food cools, or cold food warms, any germs that were not killed completely 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 at a barbecue, remember 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 capful 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 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website, usda.gov, the safe minimum internal temperatures for meat are: whole poultry, 165 degrees; poultry breasts, 165 degrees; ground poultry, 165 degrees; ground meats, 160 degrees; and beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops), 145 degrees, and allow to rest at least three minutes.
• Wash produce carefully and vigorously with water. I use a vegetable citrus-based produce cleanser which removes even more grime. And it has a fresh fragrance.
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. For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, or go to eaaa.org.