Food Safety at Your Next Cookout
By Kent Villard
(c) 2000 The Internet Chef
Stop me if you've heard this story before! There was a cookout, you decided not to attend but a lot of your friends did. There was a lot of good food and good fun. Then, sometime through the night or maybe as late as the next morning, someone had the stomach flu.
A few hours later you heard that more and more people were coming down with the same stomach bug! Interestingly enough, they were all at the same cookout. Could there be more to this story than meets the eye? You bet there is.
Each year, many people will become the victims of some form of food poisoning due to improperly handled or under-cooked food. This is an even more common problem during barbecues and cookouts where food is left un-refrigerated for much longer periods of time.
Many of the bacteria we are trying to avoid in our food live harmlessly in the colon of most healthy people. In fact, even the very dangerous E. coli strain that has been making headlines all over North America recently, is needed to produce vitamin A and B complexes. So why are we worried about them if they are so important to our health? The problems begins when the bacterium is allowed to grow in the food we eat.
What can a backyard chef do to keep from making his patrons ill? It's actually quite easy to prevent food from becoming dangerous for the most part.
Follow these simple guidelines:
- Wash all fruits and vegetables very thoroughly, especially ones that will not be cooked.
- All meats should be well cooked. Doneness cannot be determined by look for feel. You must use a thermometer to be absolutely sure. Choose a thermometer that can be slid into the side of a hamburger patty.
- Always keep cooked and raw food separate during preparation to prevent the contamination of foods that will not be cooked (such as salads).
- Frequently wash your hands, cutting board, counter, utensils and make sure you are using clean wash cloths and towels to dry your hands. This is especially important when preparing meats.
- Always thoroughly clean your meat thermometer between temperature checks to prevent re-contamination of the cooked meat. Ensure meat is safe to eat using this temperature chart:
|Ground Beef ||161°F |
|Chicken Breasts ||171°F |
|Wings and Thighs ||until juices run clear |
|Pork ||161°F |
Why do I choose 161°F when most people say 160°F? I like to play-it-safe. I advise cooking to the extra degree to make sure you have a slight margin for error. It's definitely better to be safe than sorry in this instance.
Even fully cooked foods like hotdogs (weiners) can be contaminated in the package (sometimes by a dangerous pathogen called Listeria). All prepackaged, fully-cooked foods should be reheated until steamy-hot throughout.
If you are serving the finished product of your labor in the great outdoors, be sure to keep an eye on the clock. Most foods should not be left un-refrigerated for very long on a hot day. It is best to serve plates of food to your guests rather than have a buffet style layout. If the buffet cannot be avoided, keep serving dishes on a plate or bowl of ice to keep temperatures down. The key is to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.
If you follow these guidelines and use some common sense, not only will your next cookout be a success, it will be safe too!
Kent Villard is the webmaster and co-owner of The Internet Chef. For more great articles, cooking info, and a lot more recipes, visit iChef.