July is National Grilling Month and National Picnic Month, and the two observations go hand in hand, said Easter H. Tucker, interim family and consumer sciences program leader for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.


Arkansans heading outdoors for summer picnics are likely to bring along some fresh meat to grill. Before packing up the coolers, it is a good idea to review some basic food safety rules to prevent a foodborne illness, Tucker said in a news release.


“Foodborne bacteria thrive at warm weather events,” Tucker said. “You want your family gatherings to be memorable, but not for family members to get sick. Whether you are cooking on site or transporting the food, safe food handling is critical at outdoor summer events.”


Arkansans can keep their food safe from the refrigerator to the picnic table by keeping some basic food safety recommendations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in mind, she said.


When preparing and gathering the food to take to a picnic, individuals should:


• Keep cold foods or dishes cold by placing them in a cooler with ice or frozen gel packs. Cold food should be stored at 40 degrees F or below to prevent bacterial growth. Meat, poultry and seafood may be packed while still frozen so they can stay colder longer.


• Pack beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another. When picnickers open and reopen the beverage cooler to replenish their drinks, the perishable foods will not be exposed to warm or hot outdoor temperatures.


• Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables – including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten – under running tap water before packing them in the cooler. Use a produce brush on firm-skinned fruits and vegetables under running water. Dry the fruits and vegetables with a clean cloth towel or paper towel. Fruits and vegetables that are labeled “ready-to-eat,” “washed,” or “tripled washed” do not need to be washed again, according to the release.


Tucker said food safety begins with proper hand cleaning — including in outdoor settings. At the picnic site, it is important to:


• Make sure hands are clean. If there is no access to running water outdoors, use a water jug, some soap and paper towels to clean your hands. Moist, disposable towelettes will also do the trick.


• Clean the picnic table on which the food will be served.


• Keep all utensils and platters clean when preparing food.


When grilling or preparing to grill, picnickers should:


• Marinate foods in the refrigerator – never on the kitchen counter or outdoors. If you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion before adding the raw meat, poultry or seafood. Never reuse marinades.


• Remember partial cooking before grilling is only safe when the partially cooked food can be placed on the hot grill immediately, such as on a grill on your patio or deck.


• Invest in a meat thermometer and cook food thoroughly. Poultry and ground poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees; ground meats and hamburgers to an internal temperature of 160 degrees; and beef, pork, lamb and veal to an internal temperature of 145 degrees.


• Allow steaks, roasts and chops to rest at least three minutes before eating.


• Keep “ready” food hot. Place the grilled food to the side or back of the grill, just away from the coals. This keeps the food hot without overcooking it.


• Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item.


• Check for foreign objects in food. If you clean your grill using a bristle brush, check to make sure no detached bristles made their way into the grilled food.


• Do not cross contaminate. Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood tightly wrapped. This keeps their juices from contaminating prepared/cooked foods or foods that will be eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables.


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