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Georgia Department of Agriculture

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner encourages consumers to remember food safety this summer

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Whether you’re tailgating for the baseball game or having a Fourth of July picnic, everyone loves to sit outside and enjoy a meal with family and friends. However, outdoor meals can be a recipe for food poisoning and other food-borne illnesses. Before you fire up your grill and head outside this summer, here are some tips from Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black on how to transport, prepare and enjoy food safely outdoors with your loved ones:

From the store: When shopping, buy cold food like meat and poultry last, right before checkout. To guard against cross-contamination — which can happen when raw meat or poultry juices drip on other food — separate raw meat and poultry from other food in your shopping cart and put packages of raw meat and poultry into separate plastic bags.

Plan to drive directly home from the grocery store and immediately put food into the refrigerator or freezer. If you’re going straight to your outdoor site, make sure to take coolers and plenty of ice or gel packs to the store with you so you can chill perishables right away.

Packing and transporting food: Cold food should be stored at 40 degrees F or below to prevent bacterial growth. If possible, try packing meat, poultry and seafood while still frozen so they stay colder longer.

Organizing cooler contents is a great way to maintain the desired temperature for your food container. Try putting cold food in one cooler and warm food in another tote, or separating perishables and non-perishables. That way, you’ll prevent warm air from reaching cold food by opening the cooler more often than needed.

If you’re transporting pre-made warm dishes, try preparing them in insulated casserole dishes at home so they stay heated on the way to your picnic site.

Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables before packing them in the cooler - including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Rub firm-skinned fruits and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing. Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth or paper towel. (Packaged fruits and vegetables that are labeled "ready-to-eat," "washed," or "triple washed" need not be washed.)

Site preparation: Before you begin setting out your picnic feast, make sure hands and surfaces are clean. If you don’t have access to running water, simply use a water jug, soap and paper towels. Or, consider using moist disposable towelettes to wipe your hands.

Safe grilling: Proper food safety starts with proper food preparation. Where grilling is concerned, this means allowing frozen meats to thaw completely before being placed on the grates. This allows for even cooking. Try thawing meats in the refrigerator for a slow thaw ahead of time, or thaw sealed plastic packages in cold running water.

If you’re planning on using marinade, be sure to plan ahead and leave time for your meats to marinate in the refrigerator before you leave for your home. NEVER marinate outdoors! Also, if you plan to use some of the marinade during grilling or as a sauce for the cooked food, reserve a separate portion of marinate BEFORE adding any to your raw meat, poultry or seafood. Don’t reuse marinate! Using a re-sealable plastic bag is a good way to keep you from accidentally reusing marinades, and it makes for easy transport and disposal.

Partially cooked food is a leading cause of food poisoning, so when it comes to the actual cooking and grilling, be sure to cook food thoroughly. Steaks, roasts and fish should be cooked to at least 145 degrees F, ground beef to 160 degrees F, and poultry to 165 degrees F to ensure thorough cooking. Have your thermometer ready when you start and check it often. Also, if you partially cook food to reduce grilling time, do so immediately before the food goes on the hot grill!

To keep “ready” food hot until it’s ready to be served, try moving it to the side of the grill rack, just away from the fire.

If you don’t remember anything else, remember NOT to reuse platter or utensils! Using the same plate or utensil that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood is the number one way for bacteria to spread from the raw foods juices to cooked food. Instead, have a clean planter and utensils ready grill-side.

Serving and storing your food: So you’ve gone through all the steps of food safety and are finally ready to enjoy your meal! All you need to do now is keep cold food cold and hot food hot!

Cold perishable food should be kept in the cooler at 40 degrees F or below. To keep the temperature in your cooler down, open the lid as little as possible. That way, warmer air can’t get and the cold air can’t escape. (If you’ve organized your coolers into cold/perishable and warmer/non-perishable items during your packing and food transport, you already know that!) Foods like chicken salad or desserts can be placed directly on ice, or in a shallow container set in a deep pain filled with ice. Remember that ice melts faster outside, so keep an eye on it and replace ice frequently.

On the other hand, hot food should be kept at or above 140 degrees F. Use insulated containers and casserole dishes whenever possible, and keep each dish covered before and after serving.

Hot or cold, your food should not sit out longer than two hours, or one hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90 degrees F. Always follow the saying, “When in doubt, throw it out!”

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