The Journal News (New York) reports that the state Health Department and Department of Agriculture and Markets have tips on how to properly prepare food for picnics and barbecues. Foodborne illnesses increase during the summer because harmful bacteria grow fastest in warmer temperatures.
Temperature control is the key to safe food preparation. Bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature, but do not grow well at temperatures at or below 40 degrees. Perishable foods like poultry, shellfish, eggs and dairy products should be refrigerated if they will not be used within two hours.
Cooking food at very hot temperatures will destroy bacteria. Use a thermometer to check food temperature when grilling, cooking or broiling meat. The internal temperature should be at least 160 degrees for beef, veal, lamb, pork and ham, and a minimum of 170 degrees Fahrenheit for poultry.
Using a thermometer is the most reliable way for consumers to ensure that meat and poultry have reached a temperature sufficient enough to kill disease-causing organisms. You cannot tell simply by looking whether meat is cooked enough to destroy harmful bacteria.
The departments recommend keeping hot food at or above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
The departments of Health and Agriculture and Markets suggest these steps be taken when preparing summertime foods
Red meat, poultry, fish and eggs
Ground beef should be cooked thoroughly until it is 160 degrees to prevent possible transmission of E. coli, a dangerous type of bacteria primarily found in raw and undercooked ground beef. Use refrigerated beef steaks, roasts and deli meats within three or four days. All refrigerated poultry should be used within 48 hours.
With hot soapy water, wash all knives, cutting boards and other utensils used to prepare raw meats, eggs, dairy products and other perishable and temperature-sensitive foods.
When preparing meat, remember to thaw in either a refrigerator or microwave; never leave meat out at room temperature and once thawed, finish cooking immediately.
Keep raw and cooked foods separated, so they do not contaminate each other. Use a clean dish for cooked burgers, meat and poultry.
Poultry should be cooked thoroughly to 170 degrees to prevent the possible transmission of salmonella. Salmonella is also a bacterium found in meat or poultry and eggs. Salmonella has no smell or taste, making it difficult to detect.
Fresh fruit and vegetables
Thoroughly wash all fresh fruits and vegetables. Check for blemishes and imperfections; cut away discolorations and bruises.
Prepare fruits and vegetables with clean utensils and on a clean surface to avoid cross-contamination.
Consume prepared fruits and vegetables within four hours. If not, they should be refrigerated.
Fires, storage containers
Fire safety is equally important when cooking on a barbecue grill or outdoor fireplace. Make sure the cooking location is at a safe distance from flammable objects, including buildings, camping equipment, trees and picnic tables. Keep all children and pets away from your cooking area. While cooking, protect yourself from burns by wearing a heavy apron, using potholder-style mittens and long-handled utensils, and keeping a fire extinguisher or a bucket of water or sand close to your cooking site.
Use frozen juice boxes, freezer gels or jugs of frozen water to keep foods cold in a cooler or picnic basket, and drink juices and water as they defrost. Paper bags should not be reused, if soiled. Plastic lunch boxes and insulated sacks should be washed with soap and water and thoroughly dried. Insulated containers should be used to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.