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You may be king of the grill, but do you have the food safety skills?

The USDA is on point this year for the Fourth of July with reminding everyone that grilling out often requires special food handling precautions.

The chef of your household might have the skills to cook the perfect burger, but does he or she know the food safety "drills of the grill?" To help families across the country enjoy a happy, but safe, fourth of July, USDA is providing food safety recommendations for outdoor cooking celebrations that typically mark the holiday weekend.

"Safe food handling is always important, but during peak grilling season in the warm summer months, there needs to be an increased awareness of safe food handling practices," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

As the mercury rises in thermometers during the summer, so do cases of foodborne illness. This makes summer the ideal time to "grill" the food safety experts from USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) about cooking and handling foods safely to avoid foodborne illness. FSIS offers advice to consumers with questions about safe handling and preparation of meat and poultry products, including the five foods grilled most often: hamburgers, steak, chicken, hot dogs, and ribs.

Consumers with food safety questions can "Ask Karen," the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at www.AskKaren.gov. For food safety information in English and Spanish, consumers also can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854); TTY: 1-800-256-7072. The Hotline's hours are Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Time, year-round, while an extensive selection of timely food safety messages is also available at the same number 24 hours a day. Information can also be accessed on the FSIS Web site at www.fsis.usda.gov. E-mail inquiries may be directed to
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
. Podcasts and SignFSIS video-casts in American Sign Language featuring text-captioning are available on the Web at www.fsis.usda.gov/news_&_events/multimedia.

Here are additional tips for smoking and grilling food safely:

Use A Food Thermometer When Grilling or Smoking Food

Use a food thermometer to determine the temperature of the meat or poultry. Oven-safe thermometers can be inserted in the meat and remain there during smoking. Use an instant-read thermometer after the meat is removed from the smoker.

Cooking time depends on many factors: the type and cut of meat, its size and shape, the distance of food from the heat, the temperature of the coals, and the weather. It can take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours to smoke meat or poultry, so it's imperative to use thermometers to monitor temperatures.

Cook food to a safe minimum internal temperature:

* Beef, veal and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops may be cooked to 145 °F.
* All cuts of pork to 160 °F.
* Ground beef, veal, and lamb to 160 °F.
* All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.

Smoking and Grilling Food Safely

Smoking is a process of slowly cooking food indirectly near a fire. "Indirectly" means that the meat is not placed directly over the heat source but over a drip pan of water placed underneath the meat on the grill. Steam from the water helps destroy harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. A covered grill and a drip pan can also be used for smoking food.

To ensure meat and poultry are smoked safely, two types of thermometers are needed: one for the food and one for the smoker. Many smokers have built-in thermometers. A thermometer is needed to monitor the air temperature in the smoker or grill to be sure the heat stays between 225 and 300 °F throughout the cooking process. It's important to keep the air hot enough to destroy bacteria as the meat cooks.

When using a charcoal-fired smoker, use commercial charcoal briquettes or aromatic wood chips. Set the smoker in a well-lit, well-ventilated area away from trees, shrubbery, and buildings. Only use approved fire starters -- never gasoline or paint thinner, for example.

Meat for grilling is placed on a grate directly over the fire. The best cuts to grill are relatively thin cuts of meat or poultry: chicken parts, burgers, and steaks. Because grills cook food directly over high heat, tender cuts grill best. Unless the grill is being used as a smoker, the lid should stay open.

More Food Safety Tips

In addition to being food safe using a grill or smoker, follow these food handling tips to keep your cookout safe:

* Thaw meat and poultry before smoking it.
* Never defrost food at room temperature.
* Use the microwave oven for rapid thawing, but smoke or grill the meat immediately because some areas may begin to cook during the defrosting.
* Always marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
* When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter. Don't put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate safely cooked food.
* Refrigerate any leftovers promptly in shallow containers. Discard any food left out more than 2 hours (1 hour if temperatures are above 90 °F).

Comments (2)

  1. Great food safety guidelines, hope people follow them and stay healthy and happy over the holiday and summer! I think it is funny that FSIS's robot is named Karen, hope it doesn't confuse too many of my friends, I am their version of "Ask Karen" =)
  2. Thanks Karen for retweeting this too. Have a great 4th of July :)

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