Well it’s that time of year again for cooking outdoors—in parks, campgrounds and back yards. This pleasurable summer pastime of casual dining also provides ideal conditions for outbreaks of foodborne illness.
Foodborne illness peaks during the months of May through September because of barbecues and outdoor eating. E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter are among the bacteria related to handling raw meats and other perishable food items. That’s why it’s vital to be sure items are refrigerated, well cooked and handled with care.
Washing your hands is one of the most important things you can do to prevent food borne illness – even when not using a barbecue. Always wash your hands thoroughly before preparing and handling any foods destined for the barbecue and whenever switching from handling raw foods to cooked foods.
Dangerous bacteria develop easily inside or outside raw meats particularly in warm conditions. One big problem with barbecuing is that food may appear cooked on the outside; however, it may still be raw in the center. Make sure food is cooked all the way through by cutting it and checking to ensure the meat is no longer pink; better yet, use a meat thermometer. Food is cooked when the temperature reaches 77 degrees Celsius. Once cooked, keep hot foods hot (60 degrees C) and do not cook more food than necessary. Eat cooked food right away, or put it in a refrigerator.
On the flip side, keep cold foods cold (less than 4 degrees Celsius) by placing food in a refrigerator or on ice in a cooler as soon as you can. Keep fresh foods, including salads and any dressing, cold until ready to eat. Thaw frozen meats before use in a refrigerator or an insulated cooler and keep cold until used.
Keep raw and cooked food separated at all times, preferably at opposite ends of the barbecue.
Use separate utensils and platters for raw and cooked food. Wash all utensils, cutting boards and counters with hot soapy water and use a bleach- rinse of 1 oz bleach per 4 Litres of water to prevent the bacteria in raw meats from contaminating other foods.
My favourite trick to reduce the risk of undercooked food is to pre-cook plain or marinated meat in advance and then finish it off on the barbeque. This allows me to be sure that food is cooked properly and most people can’t tell that it has been pre-cooked.
Rose Soneff, is a Community Nutritionist with Interior Health.