Keep food safe, especially in warm weather

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 24, 2018

I’m sure you are becoming more familiar with each month having a theme, such as food days and weeks. So, let me share July’s theme and food days with you.

 National days:

•  Eat Beans Day (July 3)

• 4th of July (July 4)

• Macaroni Day (July 7)

• Ice Cream Day (July 15 – third Sunday of the month)

•  Hamburger Day (July 28)

National weeks:

• Salad Week (fourth week)

National food month:

• Berry Month

• Blueberry Month

• Culinary Arts Month

• Grilling Month

•  Ice Cream Month

• Picnic Month

 Summer is prime time for grilling and with the rash of food borne illness outbreaks in our area lately, it is imperative that food safety is put into practice, from the time food is purchased until it is plated and everything in between.

At the forefront of all food safety is hand washing; hand washing is the single most important line of defense against the spread of germs and can save lives.

From grocery store to home — When shopping, buy perishable foods last to reduce the time they sit at room temperature. Separate raw meat and poultry from other foods in your shopping cart; place meat in a plastic bag to reduce the risk of meat juices dripping onto your other groceries causing cross-contamination. Be sure that the cashier bagging your groceries puts your raw meat and poultry in separate bags.

Travel home soon after grocery shopping, and store perishable foods in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible. Groceries should be refrigerated within two hours, or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees.

If you are unable to get home within that time, a cooler with ice can be used to keep raw meats, poultry and other perishable items safe until you can get them home and into a refrigerator. Freeze poultry and ground meat that won’t be used in one or two days, and freeze other meat within four to five days.

Marinating — When marinating, there are a few common mistakes people often make that can make food unsafe. Always marinate food in a refrigerator, not on the counter. Poultry and cubed/stewed meat can be marinated up to two days. Beef, veal, pork, lamb roasts, chops and steaks may be marinated up to five days. If the marinade is going to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve some before putting raw meat and poultry in it. If it is used on raw meat or poultry, make sure to bring the marinade to a boil before using it on cooked food to destroy any harmful bacteria.

Clean, separate, cook, chill

Clean: Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with warm, soapy water. Be sure all cooking utensils, surfaces, cutting boards, etc. are cleaned with warm, soapy water before being used.

Separate: To prevent food borne illness, don’t use the same plate/platter or utensils for raw and cooked meats. Also, do not use the same cutting board for raw meats and other food items, such as fruits or vegetables, without cleaning with warm, soapy water. Colored cutting boards are a wonderful way to make sure you use different cutting boards. Here are the different colors and what they mean:

• Green: fruits and vegetables

• Yellow: raw poultry

• Blue: cooked food

• White: dairy products

• Tan: fish and seafood

• Red: raw meat

Cook: Keep raw meats and poultry separate from other foods so that the meat juices don’t leak onto the foods and cause cross-contamination and possible food borne illnesses. Cook foods to their respective temperatures to destroy harmful bacteria. The best way to test the temperature is to use a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat. Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb, veal, chops and roasts to a minimum temperature of 145 degrees.

For all raw ground beef, pork, lamb and veal, the internal temperature should be 160 degrees. Cook all poultry to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Never partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.

Chill: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. If food is going to be sitting out for more than two hours, or one hour on a day with temperatures over 90 degrees, be sure to keep cold items cold with ice or a cooler and keep hot foods hot with some type of food warmer. This will prevent foods from reaching the “danger zone” of 41-140 degrees, which is where bacteria likes to grow.

Keep meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook. At home, the cooked meat could be kept hot in an oven set at 200 degrees, in a slow cooker or on a warming tray. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours, and be sure to eat the leftovers within four days.

For more information about food safety, contact the Cooperative Extension at 704-216-8970.  Toi N. Degree, Family & Consumer Education Agent, North Carolina Cooperative Extension – Rowan County Center.

Source: USDA – Food Safety and Inspection Service. Accessed at: