I have been to many a backyard barbecue over the years and I have seen food handling that leaves a great deal to be desired. Some of my friends had no concept regarding safe food handling at all. They are not alone however in their lack of knowledge about food safety.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 76,000,000 people get sick every year from some form of food poisoning. How they know this I am not quite sure, but based on my personal experiences I would tend to believe it. The CDC also estimates that about 325,000 people are hospitalized every year from some form of food borne illness.
That is why I decided to write an article about food safety tips. I wanted to help people keep their backyard barbecue a safe one for all concerned. The basics of safe food handling in your backyard is really not that much different from food safety at a restaurant. The science and basic principals are the same. You just need to adapt the science to your specific situation.
You see there are many types of bacteria, some good and some bad and it is the bad ones of course that can make you sick. However those bacteria can’t grow to a point where you can get sick unless certain basic conditions exist. Know the conditions that you can control and you can protect yourself and your guests.
There are six conditions that need to exist for bacteria to grow:
-Bacteria need an energy source for food such as a carbohydrate or protein like a meat.
-The food must have little or no acidity.
-Bacteria need the air temperature to be within a certain range to grow.
-Bacteria also need to be at those temperatures for a specific period of time to grow.
-Some types need oxygen to grow and some don’t.
-Bacteria need moisture to grow as well.
Of these 6 conditions, two are what really can come into play at your barbecue and fortunately they are the two conditions you have the most control over. Those two conditions would be time and temperature. There is a specific temperature range that fosters the grow of bacteria. This range is commonly referred to as the danger zone, but having food in these temperature ranges alone does not mean that bacteria will grow to a dangerous level. Your food has to be in this range for a specific period of time as well.
So you see it is both time and temperature that you have to worry about.
The danger zone that I refer to is technically between 41 degrees F and 135 degrees F, however to be safe I always suggest to my readers to keep your cold food cold meaning 40 degrees F or less and your hot food hot, meaning 145 degrees F or higher.
This really comes into play when you are entertaining all day long. If you keep your food out for your guests to eat all afternoon and you let it stay within the danger zone for longer than two hours then it is probably not safe to eat any more.
Side note here: there is a secondary danger zone with in the zone I am talking about. It is between 70 degrees F and 125 degrees F. This is the worst possible temperature range to let your food sit at. If your food is sitting in air temperature of 90 degrees F for example, one hour may be enough to foster the growth of bad bacteria to a point that it ruins your food and makes you sick.
The bottom line here is that if you are entertaining all day long you must be careful to keep your food out of the danger zone for extended periods of time. This is probably the most important food safety tip I can give you.
There are other things you should consider as well when it comes to BBQ safety.
Besides buying safe food and holding your food at the proper temperatures like we discussed above, there are some other things you can do to protect yourself.
Properly cook your food by bringing to a safe internal temperature before you eat it
1) Different foods need to be cooked to a specific minimum internal temperature in order to be safe. Below is a small sampling of what I am talking about.
- Pork should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees. Side note on this though, the USDA has revised these recommendations lower as long as other conditions have been met.
- Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
- Chicken should be cooked to between 165 and 170 degrees.
- Beef and lamb should be cooked to at least 145 degrees (this would be considered to be rare).
2) Keep your hands clean
You should always wash your hands before handling your food, more importantly though you should always wash your hands after handling raw meat, poultry or fish. If you don’t do this before you handle cooked food, raw vegetables or anything else, you will basically be cross-contaminating what ever else you are touching. If it happens to be food that is not going to be cooked or cooked anymore you are putting bacteria on there that could make you sick.
3) Keep your utensils clean
This is the same as keeping your hands clean. If you use a knife to cut your raw meat, you need to wash it before you use it to cut anything else. Rinsing it in hot water would not be enough. You need to wash it using hot soapy water.
One side note here, touching a clean utensil with contaminated hands is just as bad. You will cross-contaminate your utensils and they will in turn contaminate your food.
The last thing I would warn you about is your leftovers.
People never really think about this especially while you are entertaining, but a few minutes up front practicing some safe food handling practices can save you a great deal of grief down the road.
First of all as we discussed earlier in this article, if you have left your food out in the danger zone for more than two hours it is probably not safe to save and eat later.
When you do save your food though you want to get it to less than 40 degrees F as soon as possible. People never think of this. They believe that just because it is in the refrigerator they are safe. That is not always the case though. A good way to do this is to break your food up into smaller containers. They will cool down much quicker this way. You could also put them in the freezer for a short period of time just to get your temperature down quicker.
Also I would not keep your leftovers in your refrigerator for longer than four days without eating them. Even though the food is cooked it will become unsafe to eat if left in your refrigerator for too long. Another thing to remember is that gravy’s, sauces and soups should be brought to a boil before you use them. Also any meat that is to be warmed up should be brought to an internal temperature of 165 degrees to be safe to eat.
Please remember there really is a great deal more to being safe than just these few food safety tips I have given you here. There just isn’t room to put all the information you need into one article, but my goal was to give you some very basic information you could use to keep your party a safe one for you and all of your guests.