Grilling adds a fun element to picnics and tailgating. Follow these steps to make sure the meats you serve are safe to eat.
At the grocery store, pick up meat and poultry last. To prevent cross-contamination, separate these items from other food in your shopping cart and grocery bags.
Refrigerate perishable food within two hours, or one hour if the temperature is above 90°F. Place meats in the refrigerator immediately. If you decide to freeze the meat instead, freeze poultry and ground meat within one or two days; other meats within four or five days.
Completely defrost meat before grilling so it cooks evenly. Thaw meat in the refrigerator or in sealed packages in cold water.
Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. If some of the marinade will be used as a sauce on the cooked food, set aside a portion of the marinade for that purpose before putting raw meat in it. If you intend to reuse your marinade, make sure you bring it to a boil first to destroy any harmful bacteria.
Keep food cold when you carry it to another location. Use an insulated cooler with enough ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40°F or below. Pack food right from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home. Keep the cooler in the coolest part of the car.
Keeping Cold Food Cold
Keep meat refrigerated until you are ready to use it. Only take out what will be used immediately.
If you are using a cooler, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or under a shelter. Avoid opening the lid too often, which lets cold air out. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in a separate cooler.
Keeping Everything Clean
Be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters. To prevent foodborne illness, do not use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meats.
If you are eating away from home, find out if there is a source of clean water. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning and pack clean cloths or wet towelettes.
Precooking food partially in the microwave, oven, or on a stove is a good way to reduce grilling time. Just make sure that the food goes immediately on the preheated grill to complete cooking.
Cook food to a safe internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Meats cooked on the grill often brown very fast on the outside, which can be misleading. Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe internal temperature.
- Whole poultry, poultry breasts: 165°F.
- Ground beef: 160°F; ground poultry: 165°F.
- Beef, veal, and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops: 145°F.
- All cuts of pork: 145°F.
- Reheating fully cooked meats (e.g. hot dogs): 165°F.
Keeping Hot Food Hot
After cooking meat on the grill, keep it at 140°F or warmer until served.
Set cooked meats to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook. At home, the cooked meat can be kept hot in a warm oven (approximately 200°F), a slow cooker or on a warming tray.
Use a clean platter to take food off of the grill, not the same platter that held raw meat. Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate safely cooked food.
In hot weather (above 90°F), food should never sit out for more than one hour.
Promptly refrigerate any leftovers. Discard any food left out more than two hours (one hour if temperatures are above 90°F).
For more questions on grilling and food safety, contact your local county Extension agent.
Adapted and excerpted from:
“Barbecue and Food Safety,” USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (rev. 07/2013).