Whether it’s a barbecue or old-fashioned picnic, summer lends itself to eating outdoors. But nothing can spoil a good moment more than food poisoning — not even mosquitos. Approximately one in six Americans become ill due to a foodborne illness each year, with summer being the most risky period. With that in mind, here are five safety tips to ensure you stay healthy all season long.
1. Invest In A Meat Thermometer
There’s always the person in the group who claims to be the king or queen of the barbecue, but eyeballing your burgers is not the safe way to determine whether or not meat is fully cooked. Studies indicate that the way ground beef is packaged can affect its color as it cooks — some turned brown before reaching a safe temp — so you can’t rely on texture or color. Test your burger with a food thermometer and don’t serve it until the internal temperature is 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Be Wary Of Pre-Washed Greens
While you may want to save some prep time by buying pre-washed greens (think spinach, lettuce, and cabbage for your coleslaw), these bagged varieties are more likely to cause gastrointestinal distress. That’s because pre-cut leaves are more susceptible to bacteria and cross-contamination — especially if it’s sitting in your fridge for a week. While you can still purchase this convenience product, do take the time to wash them regardless of whether or not the package says it was already done three times.
3. Don’t Rush The Defrosting Process
Leaving a package of chicken or meat on the counter, or using hot water to defrost it, is a big no-no. Why? Because when the product reaches 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. Thaw the items in the fridge for 24 hours or use cold water (change it ever 30 minutes and add ice cubes if need be). That should take about two to three hours, for a three- to four-pound package of meat.
4. Be Smart About Transport
When conducting your weekend errands, make sure grocery shopping is the last on your list. The danger zone for the creation of bacteria is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so perishable goods should not be left at room temp (or in a hot car) for more than two hours. To be extra safe, put all perishable items in an insulated bag in the passenger section of the car — not the trunk.
5. Be Fastidious With Cleaning
Make sure you’re thoroughly washing any countertops, utensils, plates, and platters that came into contact with raw food to prevent bacterial growth. Try to use disposable paper towels instead of dishcloths.