When it comes to food safety, hosting a Fourth of July cookout is different from hosting a winter holiday meal, for a variety of reasons. To begin with, summer cookouts are typically held outdoors, the food table is often set up outside, the sun is shining down, and people are in a festive mood. Once the food has been eaten, your guests usually go off to enjoy other endeavors — swimming, volleyball, or croquet, just to name a few seasonal favorites. That means that the food that has been set out is often “out of sight, out of mind.”
But food should only be left out for about two hours after it’s been prepared, and only an hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or higher. The reason for that is that if there is any bacteria in the food, it will start to multiply rapidly at temperatures in the “danger zone” — between 40 and 140 degrees F. You definitely don’t want any of the food you’re serving to be harboring foodborne pathogens such as E. coli or Salmonella, which can trigger symptoms such as abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, or even death.
As the host or hostess, you also need to keep in mind that young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone who has health problems are the most vulnerable to food poisoning. So if you’re hosting the event, do make sure that the food hasn’t been left out without keeping it at the proper temperatures. (You can always put the food back into the refrigerator or into a cooler and pull it out when guests come back for seconds.)
Along the same vein, the Fourth of July sparks get-togethers that bring family and friends together. The person grilling the food is the star of the show. But don’t let anyone pressure you to pull the meat, poultry or fish off the grill before it’s thoroughly cooked. Yes, people are hungry and want to eat as soon as possible — and sometimes the line to the grill can get pretty long.
Kids can start fretting, and adults can start showing signs of impatience. No matter, take some deep breaths, stand your ground and make sure that each and every item on the grill is cooked to the proper temperature. (Of course, Uncle Harry may insist on a rare burger. That’s his choice. But don’t let anyone but you make food safety choices for the children and other vulnerable guests.)
This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Ad Council joined forces to encourage safe food preparation over the Fourth. Their food safety tips,”from the founding fathers,” can be found on the left.
And, yes, using a thermometer to check the temperature of the grilled meats, poultry and fish is essential. Don’t run the risk, for example, of thinking that you can tell if a burger is cooked well enough by checking to see that it’s brown in the center. According to USDA research, one out of every four hamburgers turns brown inside before it has been cooked to the safe internal temperature of 160 degrees F.
Hamburger leads the popularity contest for what goes on the grill during the summer. According to a consumer poll, 91 percent of Americans gave a thumbs-up to ground beef as the top choice for grill favorites. Coming in next with 85 percent is beef again. Yes, steak is always popular. Also coming in at 85 percent is chicken, followed by hot dogs at 84 percent.
Here’s a toast to food safety, and to a wonderful Fourth of July!© Food Safety News