USDA urges summer food safety precautions for outdoor cooking

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As families and friends step out of fire pits and grills for this year’s summer season, the USDA wants everyone to keep three safety precautions in mind when preparing food outdoors.

The Federal Department of Agriculture reminded people to wash their hands regularly, use a food thermometer and avoid cross-contamination.

USDA researchers analyzed consumer behavior in test kitchens.

They found that many people forget these precautions, which could lead to preventable foodborne illnesses.

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“Our research shows that participants did not wash their hands properly or use a food thermometer,” Sandra Eskin, USDA deputy assistant secretary for food safety, said in a statement.

“Summer is a time to relax and enjoy delicious meals with friends and family, but foodborne pathogens never rest,” she continued.

“Following safe food handling practices during this season and all others can reduce the risk of you and your loved ones getting sick.”

Why should you wash your hands before cooking?

Hands should be washed thoroughly before, during and after handling food.
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From January 2020 to January 2021, the USDA found that 56% of participants in its consumer cooking tests did not wash their hands before handling food.

Of those who washed their hands before preparing food, about 95% did so incorrectly, according to the USDA.

Common mistakes included not washing long enough or not getting your hands wet before touching the soap.

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The USDA states that hands should be washed before, during, and after handling food, as this is an essential step that prevents “bacteria from transferring from your hands to your meal.”

Proper hand washing according to USDA standards includes wetting and lathering hands with soap and rubbing hands together for 20 seconds.

Once done, the hands can be rinsed and dried.

Why use a food thermometer

Food thermometers can help measure the internal temperature of meat.

Food thermometers can help measure the internal temperature of meat.
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Only 55% of participants in USDA test kitchens used a food thermometer to check the temperature of burgers and sausages while cooking.

The USDA recommends the use of food thermometers for all cuts of meat, so internal temperatures can be safely determined before serving.

“Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, through the side, for the most accurate temperature reading,” the USDA wrote in its food safety warning.

The USDA has target temperatures it recommends for five categories of meat.

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Failure to cook meats to the temperatures listed may put you at risk of foodborne illness.

Steaks, chops and roasts of beef, pork, lamb and veal: 145 degrees Fahrenheit (3 minutes rest)

Fish: 145 degrees Fahrenheit

Eggs: 160 degrees Fahrenheit

Ground meat (beef, pork, lamb and veal): 160 degrees Fahrenheit

All poultry (whole or minced): 165 degrees Fahrenheit

Why avoiding cross-contamination is a must

Meat and vegetables should be separated during food preparation to avoid cross-contamination.

Meat and vegetables should be separated during food preparation to avoid cross-contamination.
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Cross-contamination was another issue observed by the USDA in consumer test kitchens.

Almost a third (32%) of test kitchen participants contaminated plates and cutting boards when they failed to separate raw meat from fruits and vegetables.

If there is only one cutting board available, the USDA recommends washing it thoroughly with “warm soapy water” before moving on to another food group.

Twenty-eight percent of kitchen sinks contaminated, 12% of spice containers contaminated, and 8% of cupboard handles contaminated.

To minimize the risk of cross-contamination, the USDA advises that raw meat and produce should be cut on separate cutting boards.

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If there is only one cutting board available, the USDA recommends washing it thoroughly with “warm soapy water” before moving on to another food group.

According to the USDA, dishes, countertops, and cooking surfaces should also be cleaned with soap and water after food preparation.

“[The] The USDA encourages all Americans to follow these food safety tips to protect you and your family from foodborne illness this summer,” the agency wrote.

The US Department of Agriculture has resources on how to safely cook seafood, meat and more.

The US Department of Agriculture has resources on how to safely cook seafood, meat and more.
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Additional food safety precautions can be found on the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website.

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For questions about cooking meat, the USDA encourages people to call or email its Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 or MPHotline@usda.gov, Monday through Friday (10 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST).

Representatives are also available for live chat at ask.usda.gov.


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Susan W. Lloyd