Food Safety for Labor Day

September 02, 2010

It's Labor Day Weekend - that means barbecue time -

It's Labor Day Weekend - that means barbecue time - and an increase in food-borne illnesses as well. Each summer, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the USDA, food safety-related illnesses increase over 150 percent. Here are some tips to make sure that your Labor Day barbecue - at the beach, picnic, or in your own backyard - is a safe one.

Pack your foods carefully! 
Use an insulated cooler with ice packs. If you prefer a picnic basket, make sure you first line the basket with a plastic bag to help retain the cool temperature. Freeze juice boxes and bottled water; kids and adults love them and they also are terrific temperature controllers. Intermingle them with your foods and they will help keep your foods cold. Either way, be sure to pack a refrigerator thermometer to check the temperature. You would be surprised to see just how quick the temperature changes — and that means the foods' temperature as well. Be sure to keep your cooler and all foods in the passenger compartment and out of direct sunlight. Most trunks are not air conditioned and can raise the temperature of your foods to well over 100 degrees.

Wrap your foods properly- and don't cross contaminate! 
Use plastic or glass Tupperware-type containers or Zip Lock bags to separate foods and make sure they are securely sealed. Avoid paper bags, aluminum foil or plastic wrap where the foods can leak and cross contaminate other foods. Never put raw and cooked foods of any kind together - or even on the same plates. If you are using a marinade never use the leftover sauce on cooked meats - you run the risk of spreading the bacteria from the raw meats (and brush) to cooked meat.

Wash, wash, wash! 
Wash your hands thoroughly with hot soapy water before cooking, handling raw foods, and before handling cooked foods. Cross contamination is one of the biggest sources of food safety problems - and washing up prevents problems. 
If you are not near running water you can use a waterless antibacterial hand sanitizer that kills germs and bacteria instantly. Also, fill a spray bottle with water and one tablespoon of bleach to keep handy to wipe off surfaces and utensils. Wipe dry with a heavy duty paper towel and throw those germs away - don't use cloth towels that help germs breed and multiply.

Make it hot! 
Make sure that all meats are cooked thoroughly, and be sure your grill is hot before you cook. Electric grills should be heated at least 15 minutes prior to cooking and gas grills at least 10 minutes. Don't rely on a visual image, thinking that meats that are brown are thoroughly cooked. Use a meat thermometer — cook ground beef to 160 degrees, steaks and roasts to 150, poultry to 180. If you are barbecuing fish make sure it is cooked thoroughly and be especially careful with shellfish.

Make it Cold!
As soon as you can, refrigerate leftovers - no more than one hour after cooking, especially when it's warm outside.

Enjoy summertime eating. And remember that you can eliminate most food safety hazards by just practicing these simple tips! Happy Labor Day from