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Health Department

Cookout Safety

Steve Crosier from the Metro Public Health Department's Food Protection Service Division offers backyard chefs and picnic packers the following tips for safe outdoor eating fun.

Picnic Tips

  • Try to plan just the right amount of foods to take on the picnic. This will eliminate the worry of storage and safety of leftovers.
  • Choose your picnic menu carefully. Foodborne pathogens prefer foods high in protein and moisture. These foods include milk products, eggs, poultry, meats, fish, shellfish, cream pies, custards and potato salad.
  • Take-out foods from a restaurant such as fried chicken, hot dogs or burgers should be eaten within two hours of purchase or be cooled below 41° and reheated to 140° before serving.
  • If you can't keep foods at the proper temperature to prevent bacterial growth, consider canned, preserved or dehydrated foods, and fresh fruit and vegetables.

Food Preparation Tips

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap with a lot of friction for at least 20 seconds before preparing food.
  • Clean work areas and all utensils with warm soap and water then rinse with a sanitizing solution (2 tablespoons of household bleach to a gallon of water) before preparing food.
  • Be sure all of the foods listed below are cooked to the temperatures specified:
    • Poultry Products - 165° F
    • Ground Beef - 160° F
    • Pork Products - 155° F
    • Prime Rib - 130° F
    • Beef Steak - 140° F
  • Use a meat or cooking thermometer to make sure food reaches proper temperature.
  • All cold foods to be served hot must be reheated to an internal temperature of 165°.
  • Cook custards, and cream pie fillings to a temperature of 165°.

Storage

  • Hot foods should be stored at 140° and transported in insulated containers such as an ice chest, for short trips. For longer trips, refrigerate foods at 41° or colder, then reheat them before serving.
  • Cold foods should be kept below 41° in an ice chest. You can use ice, dry ice or cold packs to keep temperatures low.
  • Store foods to be chilled in shallow containers. They provide more surface area for foods to stay cold.
  • Foods should be cooked in plenty of time to thoroughly chill in the refrigerator. Pack food from the refrigerator immediately into the cooler.
  • Do not place your cooler in the trunk-- instead place it inside the air-conditioned car. Find a shady area under a tree for your cooler once you have arrived at your picnic destination. Keep the lid closed and avoid repeated openings. Refill ice as needed.
  • When serving picnic foods, place them on a clean tablecloth spread on the picnic table or ground. After the meal, put leftovers back in the ice chest immediately. If you're not sure food has stayed out at unsafe temperatures for too long, be safe: Throw it away. Do not take a chance on eating foods that might make you sick.
  • Place leftover foods in the cooler soon after grilling or serving. Any left outside for more than an hour should be discarded. If there is still ice in the cooler when you get home, the leftovers should be safe to eat.

Outdoor Grilling Tips

  • Before you prepare food for the grill, be sure to wash your hands, utensils, and equipment you will use. Cook food thoroughly to the proper temperature.
  • Have hand sanitizer available when a hand sink with hot and cold running water is not available.
  • When handling raw meat, remove from the cooler only the amount that will fit on the grill.
  • When removing foods off the grill, put them on a clean plate. Don't put cooked food on a platter that held raw meat.

According to the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), each year an estimated 76 million food poisonings occur in the United States. More than half of cases reported are the results of unsafe food handling practices at home.