Avoid the food danger zone at Fourth of July cookouts

Be smart when it comes to food preparation for your holiday cookouts.
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Be smart when it comes to food preparation for your holiday cookouts.

Many Americans will be celebrating the Fourth of July outdoors this year a little differently, with celebrations at home, including backyard barbecues and picnics perhaps with only your household.

Here are tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the local health department for having a safe celebration.

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Don’t Cross-Contaminate  

Always keep raw meat and their juices from touching other foods. While grilling, avoid using the same utensils for cooked and ready-to-eat foods that were previously used with raw meat or poultry products. Wash and sanitize all surfaces and utensils after they touch raw items. Bring enough tools to keep your raw meat and poultry away from any cooked or ready-to-eat foods and have extra cleaning and sanitizing supplies ready for your surfaces, plates and utensils.

Also, wash your hand frequently, especially when handling raw meats, and don’t leave food out too long, said Jennifer Wentzel, the director of environmental health at Public Health Dayton and Montgomery County.

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Use a Food Thermometer 

“More than 25 percent of burgers can turn brown inside before they are fully cooked,” says FSIS Administrator Paul Kiecker said in a news release. “Although your grilled foods may look done, foodborne illness causing germs are not killed until the safe internal temperature has been reached. Using a food thermometer is the only way to know your food is done and safe to eat.”

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The USDA recommended safe minimum internal temperatures are:

- Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145°F then rest for three-minutes

- Fish: 145°F

- Ground meats (beef, pork, lamb and veal): 160°F

- Whole poultry, poultry breasts and ground poultry: 165°F

“Pay attention to your meats, you want to make sure that you are cooking your hamburgers to 160 degrees and your chicken to 165 degrees,” Wentzel said.

Keep Foods at a Safe Temperature 

To prevent bacteria growth and potential food-borne illness, keep your food out of the danger zone, which is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees.

Perishable food items should not be left outside for more than two hours, and only one hour if the temperature is at or above 90°F. Keep your food at or below 40°F, in coolers or containers with a cold source, such as ice or frozen gel packs. This includes any leftovers from the grill, cold salads and even cut fruits and vegetables. Leftovers should be refrigerated or placed back in the cooler within 2 hours of being placed outside (1 hour if temperatures are at or above 90°F). If you are not sure how long food has been sitting out, throw it out immediately.“After two hours, you want to make sure you put any leftover food away, back in coolers or back in refrigerators,” Wentzel said.