July is National Grilling and National Picnic Month; an exciting combination as you plan family gatherings. There are some food safety rules you will want to follow when preparing foods for the grill and picnics, according to Teresa Henson, Extension specialist-program outreach coordinator for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.

“Hot weather events present opportunities for foodborne bacteria to thrive. You want your family-friendly gatherings to be memorable, but you do not want family members to get sick,” she said. “Safe food handling is vital whether you are cooking on-site or transporting the food. Keep your food safe from the refrigerator or freezer to the picnic table.”

Follow the Safe Grilling and Picnic Tips below from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ensure your grilled food reaches the table safely.

  • Marinate foods in the refrigerator – never on the kitchen counter or outdoors. If you plan to use some of the marinades as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion before adding the raw meat, poultry or seafood. Do not reuse marinades.
  • Partial cooking before grilling is only safe when the partially cooked food can go on the hot grill immediately, such as a grill on your patio or deck.
  • Cook food thoroughly. Poultry and ground poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit; cook ground meats and hamburgers to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit; and cook beef, pork, lamb and veal to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow steaks, roasts and chops to rest at least three minutes before eating. To ensure safety, invest in a meat thermometer to ensure your meats are cooked to the right temperature.
  • Keep “ready” food hot. Place the grilled food to the side or back of the grill, just away from the coals, which keeps the food hot without overcooking it.
  • After preparing each food item, cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops should be washed with hot soapy water.
  • Check for foreign objects in food. If you clean your grill using a bristle brush, check to ensure no detached bristles make their way into the grilled food.
  • Do not cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood tightly wrapped. This keeps their juices from contaminating prepared/cooked foods or those foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep picnic food at the proper temperatures, indoor and out. It is essential to prevent the growth of foodborne bacteria. The rule of thumb is never to let your picnic food remain in the “Danger Zone” between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours, or one hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The danger zone is when bacteria in food can rapidly grow and lead to foodborne illness.

Picnic Site Preparation

  • Food safety begins with proper hand cleaning — including in outdoor settings. Before setting out your picnic feast, ensure hands and surfaces are clean.
  • Outdoor hand cleaning: If you do not have access to running water, use a water jug, some soap and paper towels, or use moist disposable towelettes for cleaning your hands.
  • Utensils and serving dishes: Keep all utensils and platters clean when preparing food.

“Grilling and picnicking are popular during July, so you must take precautions when preparing and handling meals for your family and loved ones,” Henson said.

More information can be found at the United States Food and Drug Administration Handling Food Safely While Eating Outdoors website at https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/handling-food-safely-while-eating-outdoors and at the Partnership for Food Safety, Education Food Safety on the Move website at https://www.fightbac.org/food-safety-on-the-move-3/.

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