When July 4th comes, most of us want to be outside in the warm weather soaking up the sun until it’s time to watch fireworks. All that heat and outdoor eating can lead to some risky food safety situations. To avoid any contaminated food or sickness on this holiday, follow these food safety tips and recommendations for the Fourth of July.
Thawing, handling and cooking meat can be one of the more risky tasks that many people take on for the Fourth of July. Hamburgers, chicken, steaks and other grilled meats are popular dishes on this holiday, so it’s important to understand how to prepare them properly and safely.
To begin, make sure you thaw meats correctly. Don’t thaw them at room temperature or outside – if you do, the surface area of the meat will reach room temperature quickly while the inside takes much longer to thaw out. This provides an excellent breeding ground for bacteria. Instead, place meats in the refrigerator well in advance of cooking in order to thaw them out safely. You can use the microwave to thaw meats out faster, but they have to be cooked immediately after the microwaving process.
Once the meat is thawed, make sure you have a clean surface where they can be cut or stored temporarily. If you’re transporting the meats outside to a grill, cover them with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Start cooking the meat as soon as possible after it is removed from the refrigerator. Always place cooked meat onto a clean platter – never reuse the plate or cutting board for the raw meats unless it has been cleaned thoroughly first.
When cooking meat, don’t count on its color to let you know when it’s been fully cooked through. Instead, invest in an instant-read meat thermometer and adhere to the following guidelines for safe, minimum internal meat temperatures:
- 165 F for all poultry
- 160 F for all cuts of pork and ground beef (and other ground meats)
- 145 F for steaks, roasts or chops (beef, veal and lamb included)
If you’re using a smoker to cook your meat, you should have a thermometer to measure the internal temperature of the smoker. The heat inside needs to be 225 - 300 F in order to kill any bacteria throughout the course of the cooking process.
In addition to cooked meats, you’ll probably be eating some refrigerated foods on the Fourth of July as well. It’s important to know how to safely store foods before and after they have been served, especially when eating outdoors or during hot weather. The following are some foods which are commonly consumed on the Fourth of July which you need to be especially careful about keeping at appropriate temperatures:
- Luncheon meats
- Cooked meats
- Potato salads
- Pasta salads
- Salsas and dips
The key to keeping refrigerated food safe is to understand the “danger zone” of 40 - 140 F. This is the temperature range in which bacteria can multiply rapidly. Don’t allow your foods to enter into this temperature range for more than two hours (or one hour when the temperature outside is 90 F or more. If you foods stay out longer than this, they are more likely to cause foodborne illnesses. As soon as you finish eating, place the food in sealed containers and store them in the refrigerator to reduce this risk.
Coolers are one method many people use to keep their foods cold in the hot weather. However, it’s easy to misuse these items if you aren’t keeping an eye on the temperature in the cooler. Just like leaving food outdoors, leaving food in a cooler with an internal temperature below 40 degrees F can be dangerous. Use these tips for safe cooler use:
- Use lots of ice packs, ice cubes and frozen water bottles to keep the temperature in the cooler down.
- Keep the cooler shut tight when not taking out or putting in items. Use a separate cooler for drinks that you can open and close freely without worrying about the perishable foods inside.
- Place coolers inside an air conditioned car rather than in the trunk when traveling.
- When camping or eating outdoors, place the cooler in a shady area.
- Use a thermometer to measure the temperature of your cooler’s interior.
When eating outdoors or for a special occasion, it’s easy to forget about some of the regular food safety steps we take when serving a meal. The following are some tips for serving food safely on the Fourth of July:
- Always wash your hands thoroughly before preparing, handling, serving and eating food.
- Bring clean water for food preparation and cleaning if you will be camping.
- Serve food on clean plates or surfaces – don’t reuse any plates that touched raw meats, unwashed vegetables, etc.
- Provide clean napkins or cloths to wipe hands on during and after the meal.
- Keep cooked foods warm until serving by placing them in a warm oven, on the side of the grill rack or on a plate covered tightly with aluminum foil.
- Keep refrigerated foods cool until everyone is ready to eat.
- Wash plates, utensils and other dishes soon after the meal has finished.
Special holidays like the Fourth of July often mean eating outdoors, in hot weather or in unusual situations like at a campground. Be sure to plan ahead so that you have the proper supplies and storage options available to you to ensure that all food is preparedly safely.