USDA urges outdoor cooking safety

Summer cookouts are right around the corner and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service urges consumers to remember four simple steps to food safety and to steer clear of the “Danger Zone” while cooking outdoors.

“It’s important to remember that bacteria grow faster in warm temperatures, so extra care should be taken to make sure perishable food doesn’t spend too long in the Danger Zone,” said Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza.

That is temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, when perishable food spoils rapidly. Foods that should be served hot or cold should not spend more than one hour in the Danger Zone when temperatures are above 90 degrees, and two hours when temperatures are below 90 degrees.

The Danger Zone is the temperature range in which bacteria can grow faster. Bacteria can actually double in number in as little as 20 minutes when perishable food is kept in the Danger Zone.

• Keep cold food, at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, in the refrigerator, in coolers or in containers on ice. Limit the time coolers are open, and open and close the lid quickly. Do not leave coolers in direct sunlight.

• Keep foods served hot at or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, in chafing dishes, warming trays, slow cookers or on the grill. You can keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook. Use a food thermometer to check the safe recommended temperatures.

• Never leave food between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours. If the temperature is above 90 degrees, food should not be left out more than one hour.

When preparing dishes for a cookout:

• Always wash your hands and surfaces with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before cooking and after handling raw meat or poultry during cooking. Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and work spaces with soap and warm water, too. If you plan to be away from the kitchen, pack clean cloths and moist towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.

• When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter. Don’t put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate safely cooked food.

• Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of burgers, steaks, chicken, and foods containing meat or poultry.

• Hamburgers, sausages, and other ground meats should reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit. All poultry should reach a minimum temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Fish should be cooked at 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Whole cuts of pork, lamb, veal, and of beef should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit as measured by a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, and allowed to rest for three minutes before eating. During the three minutes after meat is removed from the heat source, its temperature remains constant or continues to rise, which destroys pathogens.

• Discard food left in the Danger Zone too long. When in doubt, throw it out.