Food Safety for Outdoor Cookouts

Pam H. Schmutz
Home & Garden Information Center

As you head outdoors to grill your food this summer, remember that the most important safety considerations to prevent foodborne illnesses are to keep foods at proper temperatures, avoid cross-contamination, cook foods thoroughly and wash hands and surfaces often. Consider these important food safety tips for outdoor cookouts:

  • If you will be barbecuing away from your home, use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 °F or cooler. Place raw meat packages in plastic bags and pack separately from canned drinks and ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters for separately handling the raw foods and the cooked foods. Pack clean, soapy cloths or wet towlettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.
  • Use long-handled tongs to place or turn meat on the grill to avoid the loss of juices that keep meat moist and tender, but also to avoid pushing bacteria from the surface to the inside of the meat. Use clean tongs to handle cooked meat.
  • Use a food thermometer to be sure foods reach proper temperatures to destroy any bacteria present. Cook beef, lamb and veal steaks, roasts and chops to a minimum of 145 °F for medium rare, or 160 °F for medium. Cook ground meats and all cuts of pork to 160 °F. Cook poultry to at least 165 °F. These are minimum temperatures, but you may prefer to cook meat and poultry to higher temperatures for reasons of taste or texture preferences.
  • When taking food off the grill, do not put the cooked items on the same platter that held the raw meat. Any bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate the safely cooked meat or other grilled foods. Do not let food sit out for more than 2 hours. In hot weather (90 °F and above), food should never sit out for more than one hour.

For more information, see HGIC 3543, Food Safety for Outdoor Cookouts.

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