Food Safety from the Basket to the Barbeque

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

Summer is the prime season for firing up the grill and cooking at home with family and friends. Did you know the healthiest meals are the ones you cook at home? That is, if you are handling and preparing the foods you cook properly. This summer, don’t let uninvited guests such as harmful bacteria and germs show up to barbeque on your patio.

You can’t see, taste or smell bacteria and it is everywhere. From your cutting boards, utensils, countertops foods and hands, they are always present. If you consistently wash your hands and kitchen surfaces before preparing food, you can limit your exposure to these bacteria.

More than 200 known diseases are transmitted through food. Millions of people are sickened, 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die each year from food poisoning. Nearly half of all cases of foodborne illness could be eliminated if people would wash their hands more often when preparing and handling food. With a few helpful tips, you can make sure your foods are safe and healthy.

Start at the store. When shopping for meats and poultry, load your basket right before checkout. To protect other foods from cross-contamination, place raw meats and poultry in plastic bags and separate them from everything else in your basket. Drive directly home from the grocery store and make sure you refrigerate perishables within 2 hours of purchase (within 1 hour when temperature is more than 90°.

Don’t ride into the "danger zone". Bacteria is the enemy and it grows quickly and strives when in the danger zone- between the temperatures of 40° and 140°F. Minimizing the amount of time foods are at these temperatures can prevent the pathogenic bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. The general rule of thumb is toss foods that have been in the temperature range for two or more hours. Also, don’t marinate food at room temperature for more than an hour.

For tasty, tender meats that can shake up anyone’s taste buds, marinate, marinate, marinate. The longer you marinade, the more flavor you get. Make sure your foods marinate in the refrigerator, not the counter. Poultry and cubed meat or stew meat can be marinated up to 2 days. Beef, veal, pork and lamb roasts, chops and steaks can be marinated up to 5 days.

Unless you’re preparing seviche, fish or seafood should not be marinated for more than 30 minutes or the fish will start to cook by the acidity of the solution (i.e., lemon or lime juice). The acids that you use in the marinade can penetrate into the dish you’re using. To be extra-safe, avoid using aluminum or metal containers that might be a composite of aluminum and another metal. Also, don’t use the colorful ceramic dishes you might have purchased from your last trip abroad- the paint could contain lead. Instead, use a glass baking dish or a self-sealing plastic bag for marinating foods. One of my favorite marinades is a simple, lime-garlic marinade:

½ cup fresh lime juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and use to marinate any type of seafood, poultry, or veggies.

Take your foods directly to the grill unless you’re cooking at someone else’s house. If that is the case, take a cooler and make sure it keeps your foods at 40°F or cooler. Keep drinks in a separate cooler, watch the clock and remember the danger zone rule.

When your food is finally ready to sizzle on the &quit;Q", don’t use the same platter, knives or tongs you used to transport the raw food. Bacteria juices can contaminate safely cooked items. Don’t rely on the appearance of foods on the grill to determine when they are cooked thoroughly. Germs such as E-coli and salmonella can still be present in undercooked meats. Use a thermometer to ensure safe internal temperatures. Poultry needs to reach 180°F and juices should run clear. Hamburgers and pork need to reach 160°F. Beef, veal, lamb, steaks, roasts and chops can be cooked to 145°F. Don’t partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later. Avoid pouring the old marinade over cooked meats. Keep foods hot until served, then bon appétit!

Some interesting barbeque facts from the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) 2005 State of the Barbecue Industry Report :

  • Grilling and barbecuing have become increasingly popular over the last decade, with the overall industry increasing by 44 percent from 1992 to 2005.
  • More than 96 percent of all grill owners used their grill in the past year, an increase of 5 percent over 2003.
  • Eighty-one percent of US households own a grill, an increase of nearly 10 percent from 2003 at 72 percent. In fact, 22 percent of households own more than one grill.
  • Ninety-six percent of households are grilling 5 percent more often throughout the year than reported in 2003.
  • Burgers, steaks, hot dogs and chicken are the most commonly prepared foods on outdoor grills.


Guidelines and Safety Tips for Cookouts (2005), Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association 2005 State of the Barbecue Industry Report

Safe Food Handling Fact Sheet (2007), US Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service