Nothing says summer like cooking outside on the grill, picnics in the park and backyard parties under the sun. Unfortunately, cooking and eating outdoors presents some issues that make it easier for food poisoning to occur. Use these tips for preventing food poisoning and practicing good food safety at a cookout.
1 Keep it on ice
Keeping your food in a cooler isn’t generally enough to keep food below the temperature where bacteria can grow. Keep your food below 41 degrees by packing it in ice when in the cooler and cooking it as early in the party as possible.
2. Use a thermometer
Food is hot enough to kill active bacteria once it reaches a temperature of 140 degrees, so keep a meat thermometer handy while you grill.
3. There is no 5 second rule
Although you’ll be dining in the outdoors, avoid this common misconception that dropped food is ok to eat. Bacteria that cause food poisoning can be found on a microscopic level in dirt, on rocks and in sand.
4. Use separate utensils for different foods
Cross contamination occurs when the bacteria from one type of food clings to tongs, knives or spatulas which are then used on another type of food. Make sure that you have a set of tools for each different type of meat or vegetable that you are preparing.
5. Wash your hands, then wash them again
Any restaurant employee will tell you that washing your hands is one of the most important things you can do to help prevent the spread of food poisoning. The Oregon Department of Human Services recommends lathering hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, rinsing, and then repeating to ensure that all bacteria and foreign matter have been removed from the skin.
6. Don’t cook when you’re sick
If you have a runny nose, sore throat, nausea, have had flu like symptoms in the last 72 hours or have been coughing, let someone else do the cooking. Cooking while sick can cause food to become contaminated before, during and after preparation.
7. Keep your food separated from sunscreens, bug sprays and lighter fluid
One way of getting food poisoning is by eating food that has had contact with a chemical. Make sure that you keep your food in a separate container from that of your other outdoor supplies.
8. Take off jewelry before cooking
Rings, bracelets and watches are a common place that pockets of bacteria can build up, resulting in contamination of food. Pieces of dirt, dead skin, loose stones or settings can also fall into food causing illness.
9. If unable to refrigerate leftovers right away, throw them out
Once you’ve finished eating your meal, find a way to quickly refrigerate or freeze your leftovers to keep them out of the temperature zone where bacteria can multiply. If unable to get food items below 41 degrees quickly, consider throwing the leftovers out to prevent someone from eating contaminated leftovers later.
10. Watch for Date Markings
Be careful to check for Use-By dates, preparation dates and Sell-By dates on prepackaged food. Although it is always essential to make sure that food is fresh before eating, this is especially true in outdoor settings where it is more difficult to regulate food temperature and environmental contaminates.
For more information on safe food handling, contact the Oregon Department of Human Services and click the link for the Training Manual. This guide is a part of the Foodborne Illness Prevention Program endorsed by the state, and has many other helpful tips to prevent food poisoning.