Summertime, and the living’s…queasy. That is, it can be if you’re not careful! No, we’re not talking about eating a funnel cake at the county fair and then getting on the Tilt-A-Whirl, although that’s definitely a recipe for gastrointestinal disaster. The bigger threat to your body is food poisoning, which peaks in the summer, when high temps cause foodborne germs to multiply. To help keep your next cookout from making you or any of your guests sick, follow these guidelines.
Get a clean plate.
Grab a clean plate or platter and utensils. “One of the most common food safety mistakes people make is using the same pair of tongs or fork to put raw meat on the grill and then take it off once it’s cooked,” says Kristen Gradney, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the founder of Pure Nutrition. To prevent bacteria from spreading, you should also avoid reusing marinade; if you plan on serving it as a sauce, set some aside before you marinate your meat in it.
Wash your watermelon.
Be sure to wash your watermelon, as well as other fruits with a rind, regardless of whether the rind is inedible. Yes, that includes avocados for guac! “You don’t want to cut the fruit and introduce bacteria that’s on the outside into the flesh,” says Gradney. Use running tap water, and rub the skin firmly with your hands if the produce is firm enough to stand up to the pressure. Then use a clean dish towel or paper towel to dry it off before cutting it.
It’s tempting to bring all your marinated meat, poultry, and seafood outside as you’re getting ready to grill. But it can take 20 minutes for the coals to heat up. And even if you’re using a gas grill, you might get sidetracked, by guests or otherwise, while setting up. Store your protein(s) in the fridge until you’re just about to put them on the grate. Planning on grilling at the park or someone else’s place? Transport them in a cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs.
Check the temp.
“Home cooks rarely check meat to assure it’s been cooked to an internal temperature that’s safe to consume,” says Gradney.
Most thermometers should have temperature ranges on them, but just in case yours doesn’t, here are the numbers you need to know: 145°F for fish, or until it’s opaque and flakes easily with a fork; 145°F plus three minutes of rest time for beef, pork, and lamb; 160°F for hamburgers and other ground meat; and 165°F for poultry and hot dogs. Yes, hot dogs come precooked—but they can become contaminated with listeria after they’ve been processed and packaged, which is why you need to reheat them.
Watch the time.
Cooked food shouldn’t sit out for more than two hours. And if the temperature is 90°F or above, you’ll need to cut that time down to one hour. When you’re serving cold foods, like pasta salad or sliced fruit, Gradney suggests nestling the serving dish in a larger dish or tray filled with ice.
Oh, and for tuna salad, egg salad, or anything else made with mayonnaise, the same two-hour rule applies; the mayo you buy at the store is not any more dangerous than any other food.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.