Food-borne illnesses: Don’t invite them to your cookouts

The summer season is in full swing, and the American appetite for outdoor barbecue grilling never goes out of season. Whether grilling traditional burgers, hot dogs and steak, or going “healthy gourmet” with fish and grilled vegetables, these foods need to be prepared safely.

Food-borne illness occurs when the conditions for bacteria growth are present, causing bacteria to multiply quickly, and someone to get sick. Although most food-borne illness happens at home, and the summer heat increases the risk of bacterial growth in food, food-borne illness is preventable.
Preventive measures include marinating with acidic marinades that contain vinegar or citrus juice to decrease potentially harmful bacteria growth. Be sure to return marinated food to the refrigerator until it is time to grill.
Practice the following basics of food safety, as well.

Buy and use fresh food that is still in date or food that has been properly frozen and thawed.
Frozen food that will be grilled should be thawed in the refrigerator, in the microwave or as part of the cooking process. Never thaw food on the counter or in the sink.

Wash hands with soap and dry with a clean paper towel often and before handling food, after touching raw food and after touching anything else — face, skin, pets, children, phone, cigarettes, etc. Use clean utensils, clean cutting boards (always wash them between raw food and ready-to-eat food) and use a clean platter when taking the grilled food off the grill. Do not use the unwashed platter or container that the raw food touched. Single-service gloves and hand sanitizer are helpful, but are not substitutes for proper and frequent hand washing.

Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot to decrease bacteria growth. Bacteria grow fastest in the danger zone between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold foods should be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the refrigerator or on ice. Cooked food should be cooked and held at the proper temperatures. Chicken and turkey need to reach 165 degrees, ground meats 160 degrees, steaks and chops 145 degrees, and hot dogs 140 degrees. Grilled vegetables and seafood should reach 140 degrees. Leftovers need to reach a temperature of 165 degrees. Food should be held at 140 degrees or higher until served. A pocket test thermometer (like a chef wears on a jacket pocket) is a great investment at about $10 and the best bet for knowing if food has reached the proper temperature.


Bacteria grow quickly in food that has been in the temperature danger zone for two to four hours. Take care to serve food as soon as it is cooked, hold food at the proper temperature and store leftovers in refrigeration or on ice.
Fire up that grill and have a food-safe barbecue soon.

For more information on safe summer grilling, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture at