Grill out and keep bacteria out

Use good food handling practices when grilling meat to avoid foodborne illness caused by bacteria.

Summer is a favorite time to prepare food on the outdoor grill. While a variety of foods can be cooked on the grill, the number one item prepared is meat. Grilling meat provides a great flavor and an alternative to heating up your kitchen.

As you prepare the meat to take it out to the grill, it is important to follow good food handling practices to avoid having unwanted bacteria in your food that could lead to food poisoning. The biggest concern when grilling is the potential for cross-contamination with the juices from the raw meat.

Often people use a plate to take the meat to the grill and then use that same plate to put the meat on after it is cooked. Unfortunately the raw juices remained on the plate while the meat was cooking and now has the potential to contaminate the cooked meat. Leaving the plate outdoors (especially in the sun) while the meat is grilling is a breeding ground for bacteria, let alone all the flies and other bugs that can land on it.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the practice of using a new plate to serve the meat or to wash the original plate with hot, soapy water before using it again. Even for what you may think is a short period of time you should not use the same plate to transport the raw meat and serve the cooked meat.

Also remember to thoroughly clean the cutting board or surface area where you prepped the meat. If you are cutting up vegetables or other foods to grill, it is important that the juices from the meat do not come in contact with any other food.

Another potential food safety problem related to grilled meat is proper storage. Within two hours of grilling, the cooked meat or poultry should be refrigerated. Food left out for two hours or more (or one hour in hot weather) should be discarded. Cooked meats can be stored in the refrigerator three to four days and in the freezer for two to three months.

Frequent hand washing also decreases the risk of cross-contamination by reducing the number of bacteria that pass from raw to cooked foods. This is especially true when making hamburger patties. At home, washing hands with soap and clean water for 20 seconds has been shown to eliminate approximately 96 percent of viruses and bacteria.

Utilizing the above suggestions will help ensure that you have pleasant grilling experiences and will keep unwanted bacteria and potential food poisoning away from you and your family.

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