As the days grow longer and temperatures rise, it is time to shelve the coats and boots and dust off the grill. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) offers a few helpful tips to avoid unwelcome fooborne bacteria at your next cookout.

“When you fire up the grill to cook out this summer, make sure you are extra vigilant in taking the appropriate safe food handling steps to prevent foodborne illness,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. “Foods commonly served at cookouts can carry pathogens that can make people sick, especially those most vulnerable to foodborne illness such as young children, the elderly, and pregnant women.”

FSIS provides summer and grilling food safety resources on its website under the heading “Grill It Safe.” The webpage contains fact sheets, videos and podcasts about safe handling and preparation of food during warmer months.

Popular outdoor dining items, including prepared salads, chicken, hamburgers or hotdogs, are at risk of contamination with foodborne bacteria. FSIS reminds summer hosts and cooks that following four basic food safety steps—clean, separate, cook and chill—during all cooking practices can help reduce foodborne illness. Remain vigilant this cookout season to keep these bacteria at bay.

Begin your cookout with a clean slate. Wash preparation surface areas with warm soapy water, especially after contact with raw foods. Wash your hands with soap under warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food. Have family or friends who are helping prepare food wash their hands as well.

Raw meat and juice from raw meat can contain harmful bacteria. To prevent cross-contamination, keep all raw meats and poultry separate from vegetables and cooked foods. Use different cutting boards and knives to prepare meats and vegetables.

When you don your apron and fire up the grill, do not forget your most important weapon in your food safety toolbox—the food thermometer. Proper heating temperatures kill foodborne bacteria. Despite what many people believe, color is not a reliable indicator of doneness. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often brown quickly and may appear done on the outside, but still may not have reached a safe minimum internal temperature to kill any harmful bacteria. The food thermometer provides an accurate reading of internal temperature. Place the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat to take a temperature reading. After reaching proper internal temperature, thick cuts of lamb, beef, and chicken require a three-minute rest time before carving and consuming.

Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures include:

  • Hot dogs—165 °F or until steaming hot,
  • Poultry—165 °F,
  • Ground beef and other ground meat—160 °F,
  • Whole cuts of pork, lamb, veal and beef—145 °F (followed by a three-minute rest time), and
  • Fish—145 °F.

Remember to place cooked meats on a clean platter, not on the dish that held the raw product. The juices left on the plate from raw meat can spread bacteria to safely cooked food.

The last challenge of any outdoor event is keeping hot food hot and cold food cold. Too often, food is prepared and left to sit out while guests munch over the course of several hours. Bacteria grow most rapidly between 40 °F and 140 °F. To keep bacterial growth at bay, keep hot food on the grill and place cold food in a cooler or ice bath. Never let perishable food sit out for more than two hours. If the temperature is higher than 90 °F, food should not sit out more than one hour. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers promptly and discard any food that has been sitting out too long.

Still have questions?
Ask Karen! For additional questions, visit Ask Karen, our virtual food safety expert available 24/7, at or via smartphone. The Meat and Poultry Hotline can also be reached at 1-888-MPHotline from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. Follow FSIS on Twitter at