Practice food safety outdoors

Published 7:00 am Thursday, April 26, 2018

Warm weather has descended upon the South, giving families the opportunity to organize events that involve food cooked outdoors.

Warm temperatures increase the risk of common foodborne bacteria, making it even more important for people to practice safe food handling practices, especially while cooking outdoors.

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Marianne Gravely, senior technical information specialist at USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, said cooking outdoors involves dealing with fluctuating temperatures.

According to a release from USDA Food and Safety Inspection Services cases of food poisoning increase during the summer, on average 128,000 Americans are hospitalized due to foodborne illness annually.

While grilling outdoors, Gravely suggests having the following items on hand to ensure a safe grilling experience, Gravely said.

To ensure food is cooked to a safe temperature, use a functional food thermometer, Gravely said.

Consuming food based only on appearance can lead to serious health issues. By checking the internal temperature of food, illnesses can be avoided, she said.

Two sets of cooking utensils should also be employed, one to handle raw foods and another for cooked food to prevent cross-contamination, she said.

Cross-contamination is a concern when cooking outdoors due to the tendency of food being stored in close proximity to one another. Raw meat should be placed in waterproof containers and stored in a cooler to prevent juices from contaminating other foods, Gravely said.

Cooked items should not be left in the open for more than an hour, she said. Perishable foods need to be stored at 40 degrees to avoid bacterial growth, and should be discarded if left out for more than an hour in temperatures above 90 degrees.

Regular hand washing and cleaning of cooking surfaces will also help reduce instances of food borne illnesses, Gravely said.