VIRGINIA BEACH — Labor Day weekend signals the end of summer and that usually means end of summer cookouts and celebrations.
People seem to forget these three things: temperature control, cross-contamination and sanitation when grilling or cooking for large groups of people, said Michael Rexroad, environmental health manager for the Virginia Beach Health Department.
“You’d have to be washing your hands like a surgeon to keep them clean enough to handle cooked food,” he said.
Keeping food hot when it needs to be and cold when it needs to be can stop health problems from developing, Rexroad added.
People are usually very good about cooking food to the right temperature but once it’s out on the platter they forget to keep it hot enough, he noted.
Cookouts are often afternoon-long events during which food is allowed to sit in the sun for an extended period of time, leading to bacterial growth. Bacteria grows best when a food’s temperature is between 41-134 degrees.
The best way to keep food cold while away from home is to use a cooler, with beverages in one cooler and perishable food in another, since the beverage cooler may be opened frequently, causing the temperature inside of that cooler to fluctuate and become unsafe for perishable foods.
Prevent juices from raw meat and poultry from cross-contaminating other items inside the cooler by placing raw meats in waterproof containers before placing them in the cooler.
Meat should be kept cold until it’s ready to go on the grill. Then it should be cooked to the correct temperatures, using a meat thermometer if necessary. Just like when preparing foods inside, clean utensils and plates should be used to help prevent cross contamination.
Cold foods should be served in smaller portions, with the rest remaining in a cooler or inside the refrigerator until it’s needed.
In addition to only handling cooked food with utensils, washing hands and keeping food at the right temperature before and after cooking, Rexroad shared concerns about cross-contamination.
“Keep food separate in your grocery cart and bag your meat so it doesn’t leak onto other foods,” he said.
Overall, Rexroad recommends keeping meats and vegetables separate from each other starting at the store and ending at the grill.
To find more information from the CDC, click here.