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Barbecue Basics: Tips to Prevent Foodborne Illness

Bacteria in food multiply faster at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, so summer heat makes the basics of food safety especially important.


Whether you’re barbecuing or grilling, cooking and eating outdoors in warm weather can be challenging when it comes to food safety. Bacteria in food multiply faster at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, so the spring and summer heat can pose a problem. Here are some easy things you can do to help keep everyone at your table safe from foodborne illness.

Wash hands.

Pretty basic, right? But not everyone does it. Wash hands well and often, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom and before cooking or eating. If you’re in an outdoor setting with no bathroom, use a water jug, some soap, and paper towels. Consider carrying moist disposable towelettes for cleaning your hands.

Keep raw food separate from cooked food.

Don’t use a plate that has potentially touched or has been contaminated by raw meat, poultry, or seafood for anything else unless you first wash the plate in hot, soapy water. Keep utensils and surfaces clean.

Marinate food in the refrigerator, not out on the counter.

And if you want to use some of the marinade as a sauce on your food after it's been cooked, keep a separate portion in reserve. Don’t reuse marinade that contained raw meat.

Cook food thoroughly.

To kill any harmful bacteria that may be present, use a food thermometer. Hamburgers should be cooked to 160°F. If a thermometer is not available, make sure hamburgers are brown all the way through, not pink. Chicken should be cooked to at least 165°F. Do you partially cook food in the microwave, oven or stove to reduce grilling time? If so, do this immediately before the food goes on the hot grill.

Refrigerate and freeze food promptly.

It can be hard to remember while a party is going on, but you shouldn't leave food out of the cooler or off the grill for more than two hours. Never leave food out for more than one hour when the outside temperature is above 90°F.

Keep hot food hot.

Keep hot food at or above 140°F. Wrap it well and place it in an insulated container. Thinking of bringing hot take-out food such as fried chicken or barbecue to an outdoor party? Make sure to eat it within two hours of buying it. In addition to bringing a grill and cooking fuel to an outdoor location, remember to pack a food thermometer to check that your meat and poultry reach a safe internal temperature. When re-heating this food, be sure it reaches 165°F.

Keep cold food cold.

Cold food should be held at or below 40°F. Place foods like chicken salad and desserts that are in individual serving dishes directly on ice or in a shallow container set in a deep pan filled with ice. Drain off water as ice melts and replace ice frequently.

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