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Keep it safe this summer with food

Don’t let foodborne illness spoil your outdoor cooking and dining experiences

The other day, I wiped off and arranged the outdoor furniture on our patio after the furniture finally came out of storage.

Then I sat down at the table to enjoy the warm breeze and admire the flowers I just planted. After a long, cold winter and spring, I was beginning to wonder whether warm temperatures ever would arrive.

My husband started firing up the grill. Our dogs trotted over to check out the situation. Usually, the smell of a grill means they will get a little sample of meat. They received a pat on the head, which they appreciated slightly.

I went inside to prepare the rest of the food and gather dishes and serving utensils. Summer is almost here, so some of our cooking and dining experiences are moving outdoors.

Unfortunately, each year, about one in six people acquires a foodborne illness, and outbreaks tend to increase during warm months. We can avoid having our fun summer dining experiences make headlines by taking some steps to food safety.

Let’s review some of the rules for summer food safety in the form of a quiz about cooking temperatures and other food safety recommendations. These are the consumer temperature rules from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which are slightly different from the Food and Drug Administration temperatures used in restaurants.

Question 1) Before we begin preparing food, we all need to wash our hands for how many seconds?
Answer: Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds using warm water and soap.

Question 2) In the “temperature danger zone” bacteria can grow fairly quickly. What temperature range is considered the danger zone?

Answer: The temperature danger zone is 40 to 140 F (4 to 60 C). Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot, above or below these threshold temperatures.

Question 3) You discovered that you forgot to thaw the meat for the barbecue, and your microwave oven doesn’t work. How can you thaw the meat safely?
Answer: You can thaw meat safely by putting it in a leak-proof plastic bag and immersing it in cool water. Change the water about every 30 minutes. If you thaw meat in a microwave oven, be sure to cook it right away. Don’t put it back in the refrigerator.

Question 4) You just received a food thermometer. You read you should “calibrate” the thermometer, or check it for accuracy, by immersing the probe in a container of 50 per cent crushed ice and 50 per cent cold water. What temperature should the thermometer read when you place it in the ice-water bath?
Answer: The thermometer should read 32 F (0 C), the freezing point of water. Check if you can adjust your food thermometer to be accurate; if not, you probably need a new one.

Question 5) To what internal temperature should pork chops reach?
Answer: Cook pork chops to an internal temperature of 145 F and allow a three-minute holding time. Be aware of where the thermometer’s sensor is; sometimes the sensor is at least one inch along the stem and sometimes the sensor is closer to the thermometer’s tip.

Question 6) To what internal temperature should burgers made from ground beef reach?
Answer: Cook ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 F.

Question 7) To what temperature should chicken breasts be cooked?
Answer: Cook chicken and other poultry to an internal temperature of 165 F.

Question 8) The food is coming off the grill and is ready to serve on a nearby picnic table. The outdoor temperature is 90 F. How long can perishable food, such as cut vegetables and salads, safely be at this temperature? What additional steps could you take to assure food safety?
Answer: When temperatures reach 90 F, food should spend no more than one hour outside of temperature control. Serve cold foods nested in a bowl of ice or in a cooler with ice. Cover the food to protect it from bugs, too.

Question 9) How can you help prevent cross-contamination when you remove food from a grill?
Answer: Be sure to bring a clean plate and clean utensils to the grill to retrieve your food.

Question 10) You grilled some extra hotdogs and burgers to chill and eat later. To what temperature should you reheat the food? How long can you keep them in your refrigerator safely?
Answer: Reheat leftovers to 165 F, and use them within three or four days.

How did you do? If you need to brush up on food safety, check out the NDSU Extension food and nutrition website for details about preparing, cooking and serving food safely at home. Get some recipe ideas here too.

Here’s a cool treat to enjoy as a dessert after a grilling party or as an appetizer while you wait patiently for the main course.Follow a few basic food safety rules for an incident-free outdoor eating season.


Refreshing Fruit Dip

  • 16 oz. frozen peaches, thawed
  • 10 oz. frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1/2 c. honey non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract

Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Blend until smooth. Serve with fresh fruit, such as apple slices or strawberries.

Makes 20 servings. Each (1/4 cup) serving has 20 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 0 g protein, 4 g carbohydrate, 0 g fibre and 0 milligrams sodium.

This fruit dip is a cool treat to enjoy as a dessert after a grilled meal or as an appetizer.
photo: NDSU

About the author

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Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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