Heat meats properly to ensure a safe cookout

cookoutMemorial Day kicks off the official grilling season, so make sure you’re grilling safely.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service gets lots of questions about safe grilling during the spring and summer months. Topping the list of questions is “How can I tell when my meats are safely cooked?”

“It’s important to cook food to a minimum internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria,” said Diane Van, USDA FSIS food safety educator. “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.”

All along the food chain, farmers, meat processors and retailers take multiple steps to help ensure that meat products are safe. Consumers also can take steps to prevent food-borne illnesses. “Proper cooking is the last step consumers must take to ensure that any pathogens that might be present are killed,” said Tony Banks, commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

Safe minimum internal temperatures for meat are 165 degrees for all poultry; 160 degrees for ground meat; and 145 degrees for chops, roasts and steaks of beef, lamb, pork and veal. Van also suggested allowing meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming it. During the rest time, the meat’s temperature remains constant or continues to rise.

“Remember, you can’t tell whether meat is safely cooked by looking at it,” Van said. Any cooked, uncured red meats—including pork—can be pink, even when the meat has reached a safe internal temperature. “The color of meat and poultry is not a good indicator of safety.”

Van said to never partially grill meat and finish cooking it later. And after cooking meat and poultry on the grill, it’s important to keep it at 140 degrees or warmer until it’s served. “Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack. If you are at home, the cooked meat can be kept hot in an oven set at approximately 200 degrees, in a chafing dish or slow cooker, or on a warming tray.”

Another tip for safe grilling: Don’t use the same platters and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria in raw meat and its juices can contaminate safely cooked food. “You can either use a clean plate for the cooked meat or wash the one that held the raw meat,” Van said.

If outside temperatures are above 90 degrees, food should never sit out for more than an hour.


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