The wonderful sound of meat sizzling on the barbeque, the sound of children playing and laughing, and the joy of friends and family all make us so excited for that long awaited time — SUMMER. The 4th of July is one of the busiest grilling days of the year, with an estimated 78 million Americans taking part.
My favorite time in the summer as a kid was the 4th of July celebrations. We would get together with all our friends and have a great day of eating barbequed foods, corn on the cob, and drinking lots and lots of cold pop and Kool-Aid. The fireworks at the end of the evenings were just magical, and I still can feel my aunt’s itchy blanket under me as we laid on there to watch the sky light up in a brilliance of wonder.
Your memories are just as special, right? So, to keep your summer barbeque safe, you should remember these basics:
- Keep it clean: bacteria love to thrive in messy, dirty, or moist areas. Washing your cooking utensils down with hot soapy water before use, and using a different set for raw and cooked meats will prevent cross contamination of bacteria. The best way to keep your utensils separate is to label them — green for raw, red for cooked. Cutting boards, knives, tongs, platters, and serving dishes all need to be handled this way. Using white vinegar for a rinse is an added benefit to help cut out bacteria.
- Keep it separate: When you are storing meats in the fridge for your barbeque (or anytime, really) they should be stored in this manner from the bottom rack up: swim, walk, fly. Fish on the bottom, beef and pork in the middle, and poultry on the top. This is a food storage trick I learned in my restaurant days. Use a plate or cookie sheet under each one to catch any drips and help prevent cross contamination. Also, keep your raw meat away from Grandma’s potato salad, Aunt Aina’s coleslaw, and Dad’s corn on the cob. The flavors probably won’t mix too well, anyway, right?
- Keep it cold (or hot): 40°-140° is the temperature danger zone for food, where bacteria will multiply like crazy, and you will never know that they are there, until someone gets sick, maybe even up to 3 days later. For this reason as well, please defrost your meat in the fridge, not on the counter. To serve Grandma’s famous potato salad on the picnic table, place her fancy bowl in a larger bowl filled with ice. Sprinkle some rock salt on the ice to keep it colder. Check every 20-30 minutes, and when you have more water than ice, you need to re-ice it down. Do this for every cold dish. Your condiments should also be kept cold, and they can either be stored in a bowl over another bowl of ice, or in an iced cooler.
- Have lots of ice on hand to ice things down: You can buy your ice from the store, or you can start a couple days ahead of time, refilling your ice cube trays. To store the cubes, place in a brown paper bag until ready to use.
When cooking those hamburgers that Uncle Jim made with his “secret blend of herbs and spices,” (that’s really only salt, pepper, and paprika) make a “divot” in the middle of the patty. That way, when they puff up from cooking, you won’t get a hill, but a nice flat burger. And remember to use a thermometer to ensure that they are cooked through. Hold the thermometer horizontally to the burger and push until it’s in the center. The inside temperature of the meat should read 160°. Color is NOT a proper indicator, as you could have a brown patty that is still under the 160 ° goal, and a pinkish one could be at 160°. Thermometers can be picked up at most grocery stores, or Walmart.
You will want to calibrate the thermometer before use. To do this, simply take a glass of ice water and place the thermometer inside the water and let it sit for 30 seconds. The temperature should be at 32°. If it’s hotter or colder, you’ll need to adjust it. Using a pair of pliers, carefully move the “nut” under the temperature reading until it points to 32°.
To store leftovers, don’t just stick the hot meat or corn on the cob in the fridge. You’ll want to chill it out of the danger zone first. Simply borrow from Grandma’s potato salad (there’s none leftover, anyway) and re-ice the bowl. Stick the hot dogs, hamburgers, or other hot food in the top bowl until well chilled. THEN, you can wrap it tight and stick in the fridge, to be used within 2 days.
Remember to enjoy your holiday parties, and keep it safe!
The Food Safe Families campaign is an effort on behalf of the USDA, FDA, CDC, and the Ad Council. Though this is not a compensated post, I am helping to spread the word about becoming food safe.