Keep Your Cookout or Picnic Safe

— Written By Ann Simmons and last updated by

Grilling out is a fun and tasty way to prepare food during the summer. Whether you toss your favorite vegetables or a juicy burger on the grill, don’t let unsafe food handling habits ruin your meal. The following are some simple steps to keep your food safe while grilling or taking food on the road.

First, wash your hands before beginning any food handling tasks. Washing hands before you prepare food is one of the most effective ways to prevent foodborne illness. Wet hands with warm water, use soap and scrub the hands and wrists for 10-15 seconds then rinse and dry with a clean towel. The entire process should take about 20 seconds. Wash your hands before and after handling raw meat or poultry, after using the restroom,  after touching animals or anytime they may be contaminated.

Marinate meat and poultry safely by placing it in a covered dish in the refrigerator. Never reuse marinades on other raw meats. If you plan to use a marinade as a sauce, put it in a sauce pan and bring it to a rolling boil. Never eat any leftover marinade that has not been boiled. If you don’t plan to boil it, discard it.

Cook burgers and poultry to safe temperatures. The USDA recommends cooking poultry to least 165°F, and ground beef should be cooked to at least 160°F. Use a food thermometer to check the temperature. If meat or poultry has not reached the recommended cooking temperature when you check it, keep cooking until a safe temperature is reached. Place cooked food on a clean plate to avoid contaminating it with raw meat or poultry juices. Never place cooked items on a plate that held raw meat.

When you travel with food, make sure your cooler is stocked with ice or frozen gel packs. Foods that are cooked ahead of time should be fully cooled before packing. Cool the food thoroughly in the refrigerator to 40°F or below before placing in a cooler.

Whether you are cooking out at home or taking food on the road, keep perishable foods cold until cooking or serving. Take more than one cooler on long trips. Use one cooler for drinks and snacks. Use a separate cooler for perishable items you plan to use later. A full cooler will maintain its cold temperature longer than one that is partially full. Use extra care with foods that might leak. Over-wrap food to prevent leakage.

Leftovers should be refrigerated or placed in a cooler with ice promptly after serving. When serving, don’t leave food out more than an hour in warm temperatures.

If you have any questions about food preservation or food safety, call the extension office at 828-465-8240. Visit our website for the full schedule of events for Eat Drink and Be Local Week July 14 – 21. Activities will include cooking classes and demos; farm tours; wine, beer, and cider tasting, and the farm feast on Saturday night, July 21. Come and meet the farmers that grow our local food system in Catawba County.