Stay Food Safe This Memorial Day!

May 27, 2011 at 11:59 am , by

Memorial Day is nothing if not for the backyard barbecue: juicy hot dogs, perfectly charred cheeseburgers and tangy baked beans, all served on those paper plates with the little flowers printed on them. And you’ve got to have a straight-from-the-cooler soda with that, too. Want seconds of that potato salad your cousin brought? Don’t mind if I do!

We know you’re just itching to get away from your desks and gorge yourself with classic American fare, but before you fire up the grill remember to be food safe this weekend.

Recently we got to sit down with Elisabeth A. Hagen, M.D., under secretary for food safety for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Each year, around 48 million Americans get sick from food-borne illnesses. While the USDA monitors meat and poultry from the factory to your grocery store, it’s up to you to keep your kitchen (and your grilling area) safe from E. coli, salmonella and other pathogens that could make you and your loved ones sick.

You’re probably already familiar with the four tenets of food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill. But here are a few extra things that will be useful at your celebrations this weekend.

One in four hamburgers is not done when it turns brown.
“We know from our research that color alone is not enough to tell if it’s done. You have to cook it to the proper temperature—and the only way to know is to use a meat thermometer,” says Dr. Hagen.  There are three temperatures you need to remember: 160 for ground beef, 165 for any poultry and 145 for any whole cut of red meat, including pork.

It only takes 10 cells of E. coli to make people sick.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at barbecues and seen people take raw hamburgers out on a plate, put them on the grill, wipe the plate down with a paper towel and put the cooked hamburgers right back,” says Dr. Hagen. Make sure you’re using separate plates, cutting boards and utensils for all raw and cooked foods.

One hour is enough to enter the danger zone.
Food-borne illnesses often happen because people break the golden rule: “cold foods stay cold, hot foods stay hot.” Between 40 degrees and 140 degrees is where bacteria really start to multiply, and when you’re outside in the heat it only takes about one hour for foods to enter that window, says Dr. Hagen.

Not sure if you should eat that? Can I put hot foods directly into the fridge? Ask Karen! You can get answers to any tricky food safety questions here, and you can download the “Ask Karen” app to your iPhone or Android to access her expertise wherever you are.

Photo by Kowitz