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The Times
  • Here's how to stay safe when cooking outdoors

  • Here are more tips for keeping foods safe when cooking outdoors. Sources are USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, National Restaurant Association and www.epicurious.com.

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  • Summer is a time to enjoy the thrill of the grill.
    But the potential for foodborne illness increases in hot weather. Remember: foods that require refrigeration should not be left in the “danger zone” –– 41 to 140 degrees –– for more than two hours; and if the temperature is above 90 degrees, one hour is the maximum. Harmful bacteria in foods reproduce rapidly in the danger zone.
    Here are more tips for keeping foods safe when cooking outdoors. Sources are USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, National Restaurant Association and www.epicurious.com.
    Getting ready
    -- Wash your hands. It’s the first defense against spreading germs. Wash hands before handling any food, and always after handling raw meats.
    -- Prep raw and ready-to-eat foods separately. Use separate cutting boards and other prep surfaces for raw and cooked food to minimize cross-contamination risk. A good way to remember which is which is to use different colored boards. Example: red for meats and green for vegetables.
    -- Thaw meat and poultry completely before grilling so it cooks more evenly. Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing, or thaw sealed packages in cold water. For quicker thawing, you can defrost in a microwave if the food will be placed immediately on the grill.
    -- Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Poultry and cubed meat or stew meat can be marinated up to two days. Beef, veal, pork and lamb roasts, chops and steaks may be marinated up to five days. If some of the marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat and poultry in it. However, if the marinade used on raw meat or poultry is to be reused, make sure to let it come to a boil first to destroy any harmful bacteria.
    -- Wash fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw. (They can become contaminated in growing fields with bacteria like E. coli or salmonella when rain washes waste from nearby animal farms onto plants, or during processing.) Lightly scrub hard-skinned fruit, rinse dirt off soft-skinned items and spray water onto berries to clean them. Remove outer layers of leafy vegetables before washing. To maintain freshness, wash produce only immediately before using.
    Storing food
    -- After grocery shopping, place meat and poultry in the refrigerator immediately. Freeze poultry and ground meat that won’t be used in one or two days; freeze other meat within four to five days.
    -- Pack your cooler correctly when cooking at a picnic site. Always keep cold foods cold; use a thermometer to make sure you are maintaining a temperature of 40 degrees or lower. Pack raw food that you intend to cook (like raw hamburgers) in a separate cooler from food that is already cooked and ready to eat, including beverages and produce. If you use ice in your raw foods cooler, don’t use that ice for anything else.
    Page 2 of 3 - -- Defrost meat in the refrigerator before you leave home, not at the picnic site. When you defrost outdoors in the summer, the surface of the meat gets warm enough for harmful bacteria to multiply by the time the inside has thawed.
    -- During warm weather, transport coolers in your air-conditioned car instead of the hot trunk.
    -- Keep coolers out of the direct sun by placing them in the shade or shelter. Avoid opening the lid too often, which lets cold air out and warm air in.
    -- Keep meat and poultry refrigerated until ready to use. Only take out the meat and poultry that will immediately be placed on the grill.
    At the grill
    -- Use separate plates and utensils for raw and cooked foods. After putting raw burgers, chicken breasts or other meats on the grill, switch to clean spatulas, tongs and plates. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and poultry and their juices can contaminate safely cooked food.
    -- Never partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.
    -- Heat fully cooked meats like hot dogs by grilling to 165 degrees or until steaming hot.
    -- Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook. At home, the cooked meat can be kept hot in an oven set at approximately 200 degrees, in a chafing dish or slow cooker, or on a warming tray.
    -- Maintain a safe temperature of 250 to 300 degrees if smoking foods on a grill or in a smoker.
    After the meal
    -- Refrigerate any leftovers promptly in shallow containers. Discard any food left out more than two hours (or one hour if temperatures are above 90 degrees).
    -- Don’t leave sandwiches and other leftovers in the back seat of the car. The heat of summer is the ideal breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
    Safe minimum internal temperatures
    Use a food thermometer and measure the middle of the thickest part of the food.
    Whole poultry: 165 degrees
    Poultry breasts: 165 degrees
    Ground poultry: 165 degrees
    Ground meats: 160 degrees
    Fish: 145 degrees
    Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145 degrees, and allow to rest at least three minutes.
    Does grilling pose a cancer risk?
    Some studies suggest there may be a cancer risk related to eating food cooked by high-heat cooking techniques, such as grilling, frying and broiling. Based on present research findings, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says eating moderate amounts of grilled meats — without charring — does not pose a problem.
    To prevent charring, remove visible fat that can cause a flare-up. Cook food in the center of the grill, and move coals to the side to prevent fat and juices from dripping on them. Cut charred portions off the meat.

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