It's summertime--enjoy your cookouts!

Heed Safe Cooking and Food Handling Advice For The Summer Grilling Season

Susan Conley (301) 344-4755
Matt Baun (301) 344-4743

WASHINGTON, June 20, 2006 - Backyard chefs may think they know best when it comes to grilling that perfect burger, steak or barbeque chicken, but unless they follow key food safety practices their friends and family may wish to think twice before taking a seat at the picnic table.

“The risk of foodborne illness increases during the summer months because disease-causing bacteria grow faster on raw meat and poultry products in warmer weather,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond. “Bacteria also need moisture to flourish and summer weather, often hot and humid, provides the perfect conditions.”

USDA’s four key recommendations can help keep friends and family safe from foodborne illness:

* Clean - Wash hands and surfaces often.
* Separate - Don't cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat and poultry apart from cooked foods.
* Cook - Use a food thermometer to be sure meat and poultry are safely cooked.
* Chill - Refrigerate or freeze promptly.

In addition, USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline in the spirit of a food safe summer grilling season, is providing these important recommendations for grillers:

It’s a wash! - In sports, “it’s a wash” means that the two opposing teams are equally matched and the victor is anyone’s guess. But during the summer grilling season, unless you wash your hands thoroughly, the opponent ? bacteria that causes foodborne illness ? will have the advantage. Be safe by thoroughly washing hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available at the picnic site then bring disposable towelettes or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Hand-washing is one of the simplest ways to help reduce the threat of foodborne illness.

Go ahead, make more marinade - Sauces and marinades used on raw meat or poultry should never be reused on cooked foods. Reused marinade could potentially harbor bacteria that can make people sick. Recycling the marinade as a dipping sauce after the food has been cooked is a bad idea if it has not been boiled first. Always allow meat and poultry to marinate in the refrigerator. At room temperature bacteria on raw meat and poultry can double in number every 20 minutes. Likewise, thaw meat and poultry in the refrigerator, never on the counter.

Safe at the plate - This term applies to more than baseball. One of the most common mistakes people make is serving cooked food on the same plate that was used to transport the raw meat or poultry from the kitchen to the grill. Cross-contamination can also occur when vegetables or other uncooked foods come into contact with cutting boards, plates and utensils that were used for raw meat and poultry products. So this summer keep it safe by using separate plates ? one for raw foods and one for cooked foods.

Tools of the trade - You can never have enough tools and two of something is better than one ? and safer. It is important to have more than one spatula, fork and other utensils on hand when grilling. Backyard chefs often use a spatula or kitchen tongs to place raw food on the grill and later use the same utensil to remove the food after it’s been fully cooked. Because the utensil came into contact with raw food, it could harbor bacteria and transfer them to the cooked food. Be sure to use two utensils, one for raw food, and one for cooked food.

Watch the temperature rise - Studies show that the color of cooked poultry and hamburgers is not a reliable way to determine if foods have been cooked to a temperature high enough to kill bacteria like E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. The only way to be sure food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer to measure the internal temperature. All poultry products should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Ground beef and pork should be cooked to 160°F and steaks, roasts and fish should be cooked to 145°F.

An ice chest isn’t just for drinks - An ice chest is a valuable tool at summer outings. Not only does it serve as a vehicle for transporting food, it also plays a critical role in reducing the chances of foodborne illness. Drinks aren’t the only food products that should be chilled. Popular picnic items like hot dogs, raw hamburgers and salads should be packed in a cooler with enough ice or freezer packs to keep the temperature inside at 40°F or below.

Dad, are we there yet? - All dads know the best way to get to their destinations without having to ask for directions. But when you are transporting hot foods to your picnic like fried chicken or BBQ ribs, take the most direct route. Hot take-out food should be eaten within two hours and within one hour if the temperature exceeds 90°F.

Keep the flame alive - For many grilling enthusiasts there is only one way to cook ? with fire! However, realize that foods left out in temperatures higher than 90°F will become unsafe in just one hour. Because summer picnics and barbeques often last for more than a few hours, food that has been cooked and left sitting on the table for several hours should not be eaten. Hot foods need to be kept hot (140°F or higher). Use the grill and warming trays to maintain these temperatures.

Chill out - Play it safe by putting leftovers and perishables back on ice after eating. Don’t send leftovers home with the guests unless this food is transported in a cooler with ice and immediately chilled. These foods can reach the “Danger Zone” (40°F to 140°F), where bacteria can grow and multiply if not properly chilled. Also, cold foods need to be kept cold (40°F or lower). Use coolers and ice to maintain these temperatures.

If you have a question about meat, poultry or egg products, “Ask Karen” is the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day to answer your questions at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Food_Safety_Education/
Ask_Karen/index.asp#Question . Or call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll free at 1-888-MPHotline or 1-888-674-6854, TTY: 1-800-256-7072. You can call the year-round hotline Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 pm. EST (English or Spanish).

You may also listen to timely recorded food safety messages at the same number 24 hours a day. Check out FSIS’ Web site at http://www.fsis.usda.gov. E-mail questions can be answered by mphotline.fsis@usda.gov.

[Safe Food Handling]
Barbecue and Food Safety
Cooking outdoors was once only a summer activity shared with family and friends. Now more than half of Americans say they are cooking outdoors year round. So whether the snow is blowing or the sun is shining brightly, it’s important to follow food safety guidelines to prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying and causing foodborne illness. Use these simple guidelines for grilling food safely.

From the Store: Home First
When shopping, buy cold food like meat and poultry last, right before checkout. Separate raw meat and poultry from other food in your shopping cart. To guard against cross-contamination ? which can happen when raw meat or poultry juices drip on other food ? put packages of raw meat and poultry into plastic bags.

Plan to drive directly home from the grocery store. You may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables. Always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours. Refrigerate within 1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F.

At home, place meat and poultry in the refrigerator immediately. Freeze poultry and ground meat that won’t be used in 1 or 2 days; freeze other meat within 4 to 5 days.

Defrost Safely
Completely defrost meat and poultry before grilling so it cooks more evenly. Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing or thaw sealed packages in cold water. You can microwave defrost if the food will be placed immediately on the grill.

Marinating
Meat and poultry can be marinated for several hours or days to tenderize or add flavor. Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. If some of the marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat and poultry in it. However, if the marinade used on raw meat or poultry is to be reused, make sure to let it come to a boil first to destroy any harmful bacteria.

Transporting
When carrying food to another location, keep it cold to minimize bacterial growth. Use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 °F or below. Pack food right from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home.

Keep Cold Food Cold
Keep meat and poultry refrigerated until ready to use. Only take out the meat and poultry that will immediately be placed on the grill.

When using a cooler, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or shelter. Avoid opening the lid too often, which lets cold air out and warm air in. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in a separate cooler.

Keep Everything Clean
Be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters. To prevent foodborne illness, don’t use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and poultry and their juices can contaminate safely cooked food.

If you’re eating away from home, find out if there’s a source of clean water. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning. Or pack clean cloths, and wet towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.

Precooking
Precooking food partially in the microwave, oven, or stove is a good way of reducing grilling time. Just make sure that the food goes immediately on the preheated grill to complete cooking.
[ ]

  • SAFE MINIMUM INTERNAL TEMPERATURES Whole poultry: 165 °F

  • Poultry breasts: 165 °F

  • Ground poultry: 165 °F

  • Hamburgers, beef: 160 °F

  • Beef, veal, and lamb (steaks, roasts and chops):

    • Medium rare 145 °F
    • Medium 160 °F
  • All cuts of pork: 160 °F

[ ]

Cook Thoroughly
Cook food to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside. Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature. Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts and chops can be cooked to 145 °F. Hamburgers made of ground beef should reach 160 °F. All cuts of pork should reach 160 °F. All poultry should reach a minimum of 165 °F.

NEVER partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.

Reheating
When reheating fully cooked meats like hot dogs, grill to 165 °F or until steaming hot.

Keep Hot Food Hot
After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served ? at 140 °F or warmer.

Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook. At home, the cooked meat can be kept hot in a warm oven (approximately 200 °F), in a chafing dish or slow cooker, or on a warming tray.

Serving the Food
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.

In hot weather (above 90 °F), food should never sit out for more than 1 hour.

Leftovers
Refrigerate any leftovers promptly in shallow containers. Discard any food left out more than 2 hours (1 hour if temperatures are above 90 °F).

Safe Smoking
Smoking is cooking food indirectly in the presence of a fire. It can be done in a covered grill if a pan of water is placed beneath the meat on the grill; and meats can be smoked in a “smoker,” which is an outdoor cooker especially designed for smoking foods. Smoking is done much more slowly than grilling, so less tender meats benefit from this method, and a natural smoke flavoring permeates the meat. The temperature in the smoker should be maintained at 250 to 300 °F for safety.

Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe internal temperature.

Pit Roasting
Pit roasting is cooking meat in a large, level hole dug in the earth. A hardwood fire is built in the pit, requiring wood equal to about 2½ times the volume of the pit. The hardwood is allowed to burn until the wood reduces and the pit is half filled with burning coals. This can require 4 to 6 hours burning time.

Cooking may require 10 to 12 hours or more and is difficult to estimate. A food thermometer must be used to determine the meat’s safety and doneness. There are many variables such as outdoor temperature, the size and thickness of the meat, and how fast the coals are cooking.

Does Grilling Pose a Cancer Risk?
Some studies suggest there may be a cancer risk related to eating food cooked by high-heat cooking techniques as grilling, frying, and broiling. Based on present research findings, eating moderate amounts of grilled meats like fish, meat, and poultry cooked ? without charring ? to a safe temperature does not pose a problem.

To prevent charring, remove visible fat that can cause a flare-up. Precook meat in the microwave immediately before placing it on the grill to release some of the juices that can drop on coals. Cook food in the center of the grill and move coals to the side to prevent fat and juices from dripping on them. Cut charred portions off the meat.

Hot Dogs and Food Safety

Whether you call it a frankfurter, hot dog, wiener, or bologna, it’s a cooked sausage and a year-round favorite. They can be made from beef, pork, turkey, chicken, or a combination ? the label must state which. And there are Federal standards of identity for their content.

Definitions
Frankfurters (a.k.a., hot dogs, wieners, or bologna) are cooked and/or smoked sausages according to the Federal standards of identity. Federal standards of identity describe the requirements for processors to follow in formulating and marketing meat, poultry, and egg products produced in the United States for sale in this country and in foreign commerce. The standard also requires that they be comminuted (reduced to minute particles), semisolid products made from one or more kinds of raw skeletal muscle from livestock (like beef or pork), and may contain poultry meat. Smoking and curing ingredients contribute to flavor, color, and preservation of the product. They are link-shaped and come in all sizes ? short, long, thin, and chubby.

The most popular of all categories, the skinless varieties, have been stripped of their casings after cooking. Water or ice, or both, may be used to facilitate chopping or mixing or to dissolve curing ingredients. The finished products may not contain more than 30% fat or no more than 10% water, or a combination of 40% fat and added water. Up to 3.5% non-meat binders and extenders (such as nonfat dry milk, cereal, or dried whole milk) or 2% isolated soy protein may be used, but must be shown in the ingredients statement on the product’s label by its common name.

Casings
Some hot dogs have a casing, or a thin skin. If the species of the casing is different than that of the hot dog, the label must say so. For example, if a turkey hot dog has a pork casing, the label must list the pork casing on the ingredients list. If the casing is artificially colored, the label must indicate this
as well.

Byproducts, Variety Meats
“Frankfurter, Hot Dog, Wiener, or Bologna With Byproducts” or “With Variety Meats” are made according to the specifications for cooked and/or smoked sausages (see above), except they consist of not less than 15% of one or more kinds of raw skeletal muscle meat with raw meat byproducts. The byproducts (heart, kidney, or liver, for example) must be named with the derived species and be individually named in the ingredients statement.

Species
Beef Franks or Pork Franks are cooked and/or smoked sausage products made according to the specifications above, but with meat from a single species and do not include byproducts.

Turkey Franks or Chicken Franks can contain turkey or chicken and turkey or chicken skin and fat in proportion to a turkey or chicken carcass.

Ingredients Statement
All ingredients in the product must be listed in the ingredients statement in order of predominance, from highest to lowest amounts.

“Meat” Derived By Advanced Meat Bone Separation and Meat Recovery Systems
The definition of “meat” was amended in December 1994 to include any “meat” product that is produced by advanced meat/bone separation machinery. This meat is comparable in appearance, texture, and composition to meat trimmings and similar meat products derived by hand. This machinery separates meat from bone by scraping, shaving, or pressing the meat from the bone without breaking or grinding the bone. Product produced by advanced meat recovery (AMR) machinery can be labeled using terms associated with hand-deboned product (e.g., “beef trimmings” and “ground beef”).

The AMR machinery cannot grind, crush, or pulverize bones to remove edible meat tissue, and bones must emerge essentially intact. The meat produced in this manner can contain no more than 150 milligrams (mg) of calcium per 100 grams product (within a tolerance of 30 mg. of calcium). Products that exceed the calcium content limit must be labeled “mechanically separated beef or pork” in the ingredients statement.

Mechanically Separated Meat (MSM)
Mechanically separated meat is a paste-like and batter-like meat product produced by forcing beef or pork bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue.

In 1982, a final rule published by FSIS on mechanically separated meat said it was safe and established a standard of identity for the food product. Some restrictions were made on how much can be used and the type of products in which it can be used. These restrictions were based on concerns for limited intake of certain components in MSM, like calcium. Mechanically separated meat must be labeled as “mechanically separated beef or pork” in the ingredients statement. Hot dogs can contain no more than 20% mechanically separated beef or pork.

Due to FSIS regulations enacted in 2004 to protect consumers against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, mechanically separated beef is considered inedible and is prohibited for use as human food. It is not permitted in hot dogs or any other processed product.

Mechanically Separated Poultry (MSP)
Mechanically separated poultry is a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue. Mechanically separated poultry has been used in poultry products since the late 1960’s. In 1995, a final rule on mechanically separated poultry said it was safe and could be used without restrictions. However, it must be labeled as “mechanically separated chicken or turkey” in the product’s ingredients statement. The final rule became effective November 4, 1996. Hot dogs can contain any amount of mechanically separated chicken or turkey.

Food Product Dating Terms
The labeling on a package of hot dogs may contain one of several different types of dates. Product dating is voluntary and not required by Federal regulations. If a date is used, it must also state what the date means.

* "Sell-By" date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
* "Use-By" date is the last date recommended for use of the product while at peak quality. This date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.
* "Best if Used By (or Before)" date helps consumers by stating a precise date for best flavor or quality.
* "Expiration Date" helps stores and consumers by stating the shelf-life or the last day product should be used while it is wholesome.

Safety After Date Expires
Except for “Use-By” dates, product dates don’t refer to home storage and use after purchase. If a “Sell-By,” “Best if Used By (or Before),” or “Expiration Date” date expires during home storage, a product should be safe and wholesome if handled safely and kept at 40 °F or below.

Food Safety Guidelines
The same general food safety guidelines apply to hot dogs as to all perishable products ? “Keep hot food hot and cold food cold.” Although all hot dogs are fully cooked, always reheat before eating. Use a food thermometer to make sure hot dogs reach 165 °F or are steamy hot throughout.

Studies have shown a high level of the harmful bacteria Listeria on hot dogs. Thus, for added precaution, persons at risk may choose to avoid eating hot dogs and luncheon meats, such as bologna, unless they are reheated until steamy hot.

When you leave the grocery store with hot dogs, head straight home and refrigerate or freeze them immediately. If there is no product date, hot dogs can be safely stored in the unopened package for 2 weeks in the refrigerator; once opened, only 1 week. For maximum quality, freeze hot dogs no longer than 1 or 2 months. And, of course, never leave hot dogs at room temperature for more than 2 hours and no more than 1 hour when the temperature goes above 90 °F.