For many Americans, Labor Day marks the grand
finale to the outdoor cooking season. But an
increasing number of people -- about half --
say they cook outdoors year round, says the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But whether you're cooking under the warm September
sun or during a February snowfall, you need
to follow food-safety guidelines to prevent
food-borne illness. The USDA offers this advice:
When you buy meat and poultry, take it directly
home from the supermarket. When you get home,
refrigerate it immediately. Poultry or ground
meat that won't be used within one or two
days should be frozen. Other meat should be
frozen within four to five days.
Meat and poultry should be completely defrosted
before it's grilled so that it cooks evenly.
Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing
or thaw sealed packages of meat and poultry
in cold water. You can use a microwave to
defrost meat and poultry if the meat will
be placed immediately on the grill.
When you marinate meat and poultry, do it
in the refrigerator, not on the kitchen counter.
If you plan to use some of the marinade as
a sauce, set aside a portion of the marinade
before you put raw meat or poultry in it.
If you plan to re-use marinade that's been
used on meat or poultry, boil the marinade
to destroy any harmful bacteria.
When you're transporting food, make sure
to use an insulated cooler with enough ice
or ice packs to keep the food at 40 degrees
Fahrenheit or cooler. Pack food directly from
the refrigerator into the cooler just before
you leave home.
When using a cooler, keep it out of direct
sunlight. Avoid opening the lid too often.
Pack beverages in one cooler and perishable
food in another cooler.
Meat and poultry must be kept refrigerated
until it's ready to cook. Only take out amounts
that will immediately be placed on the grill.
Have a good supply of clean utensils and
platters. Don't use the same platter and utensils
for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful
bacteria in raw meat and poultry can contaminate
If you're away from home, find out if there's
a source of clean water. If not, bring water
from home for food preparation and cleaning.
Or pack clean cloths and wet towelettes for
cleaning surfaces and hands.
You can partially pre-cook food in a microwave,
oven or stove to reduce grilling time. But
be sure the food goes immediately on the preheated
grill to complete cooking.
Meat and poultry needs to be cooked to a
minimum internal temperature to kill harmful
bacteria. Use a food thermometer to check.
Beef, veal, lamb steaks, roasts and chops
should be at least 145 degrees F. Hamburgers
made of ground beef and all cuts of pork should
be 160 degrees F. All poultry should be 165
degrees F. Never partially grill meat or poultry
and finish cooking later.
When reheating fully cooked meats, such
as hot dogs, grill to 165 degrees Fahrenheit
or until steaming hot.
Keep hot food hot -- at least 140 degrees
Fahrenheit or more -- until it's served.
Leftovers should be promptly refrigerated.
Throw out any food left out longer than two
hours (one hour if the temperature is above
90 degrees Fahrenheit).
The USDA also offers advice on different cooking
Smoking. This refers to cooking food indirectly
in the presence of fire. It can be done in
a covered grill if a pan of water is placed
beneath the meat on the grill or in an outdoor
cooker especially designed for smoking foods.
The temperature in a smoker should be kept
at 250 degrees F to 300 degrees F. Use a food
thermometer to be sure the food has reached
a safe internal temperature.
Pit roasting. This method involves cooking
meat in a large, level hole in the earth.
A hardwood fire is built in the pit and burns
(about four to six hours) until the pit is
half filled with hot coals. Cooking may require
10 to 12 hours. A food thermometer must be
used to check the meat. Pit roasting is affected
by many variables such as outdoor temperature,
the size and thickness of the meat, and the
amount of heat being generated by the coals.
Some studies have suggested a link between
cancer and foods cooked by high-heat methods
such as grilling, frying and broiling. Based
on currently available research, eating moderate
amounts of grilled meats that are cooked --
without charring -- to a safe temperature does
not pose a problem, according to the USDA.
You can prevent charring by removing visible
fat that can cause a flare-up on the grill.
Pre-cook meat in the microwave immediately before
placing it on the grill. This will reduce the
amount of juice that drops on the grill. 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 areas off cooked meat.