The 4th of July means firing up the grill or having a picnic, but a Nebraska Extension expert wants you to keep it safe.
Alice Henneman, Lancaster County extension educator, says important things to remember are to thaw food completely and cook it thoroughly.
“Use a thermometer to make sure it’s reached a safe temperature. Hamburgers can look done without being done,” Henneman tells Nebraska Radio Network.
She points to a USDA test that found, on average, one in four hamburgers were not cooked to safe temperature.
Pre-cooking meat a little inside is OK, but the grilling needs to be done right after.
“Because as the heat goes up, those bacteria start to multiply,” Henneman says, “and you need to continue that cooking process on the grill.”
Food should only sit outside for up to an hour, and a cooler should keep it at 40 degrees or colder. That goes for raw food and any leftovers you may want to take home.
“Take it back in that cooler that you packed with gel packs or with a lot of ice. If you’ve done that within an hour of serving it, then you can refrigerate it or even freeze that,” she says.
Refrigerated leftovers should be eaten within three to four days, or within four months, if you freeze them.
One way to keep the correct temperature of food in the cooler is to put drinks in their own cooler, since that will be opened more often.
Henneman also says you should enjoy the food, but try to keep it healthy too.
“Vegetables taste great grilled. They have a nice flavor. The little grill marks make them especially attractive to eat,” she says. “While you’re enjoying all those, enjoy a low-fat meat.”
Other food safety tips:
- Use a digital thermometer, if possible, to test the internal temperature of meat.
- If the food is stored cold, you should keep it as cold as possible outside.
- Don’t use the raw meat marinade on the cooked meat, unless you boil the marinade to kill bacteria.
- Use a different plate for raw meat and cooked meat to prevent cross-contamination.
Finally, Henneman says mayonnaise sometimes gets a bad wrap when it shows up at a cookout.
“The mayonnaise is actually a little bit acidic, so itself is not going to be as dangerous,” she says. “It’s more like the other foods that may be in that potato salad, like the eggs, the potatoes themselves, and so on, that maybe as much of a cause for problems.”