Cooking up summer grub –

For a number of residents, the Fourth of July means a day off from work to celebrate America’s independence with friends, family and fireworks.

And food – possibly lots of it.

In general residents are going to start spending a lot more time outdoors in the summer months and should consider safe food preparations.

Janell Goodwin, technical information specialist in the office of public affairs and consumer education with the USDA, said with all the upcoming cookouts and barbecues people will host this summer, there will be a lot of meat and poultry products hitting the grill, so it is no better time to learn about how to safely prepare perishable items for a hot summer day.

Leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria to grow to dangerous levels and cause illness. Bacteria grow most rapidly in range of temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Goodwin referred to the range of temperatures as the “Danger Zone” – “and we want to make sure the food is not left out in the Danger Zone,” she said.

Chad Carter is a Clemson University Extension food safety and nutrition agent serving Charleston, Beaufort and Georgetown Counties, and provides food safety training to food managers through a training program called ServSafe.

Carter said 40 degrees is high for cold food and 141 degrees is low for hot foods and that is when that bacterial growth can start.

“Once that cold food gets up to about 70 degrees, that’s when that bacteria (gets) real happy and they start multiply more rapidly,” he said.

Foodborne illness thrives in the Danger Zone, and the chances of contracting foodborne illness increases in the summer because people are naturally going to be outdoors more. Goodwin said foodborne illness symptoms are very similar to flu-like symptoms, like vomiting and diarrhea, and it can be treated with antibiotics and other recommendations from a doctor – residents should consult a medical professional about symptoms.

In most areas of the country, particularly at Fourth of July, temperatures are going to get hot – “hot” being 90 degrees or above.

“A lot of consumers just don’t know that food goes bad after a certain amount of time outdoors,” Goodwin said.

On average, that certain amount of time is two hours, but when it is really hot outside it reduces to just one hour, so Goodwin advises residents to keep perishable products chilled within one hour of preparing.

Carter said another thing to be aware of is cross contamination – getting raw meat juices on ready-to-eat lettuces and things of that nature. If residents are using a cutting board to handle raw meat they should wash it before using it for items like vegetables.

Residents traveling with food in the car are encouraged to make sure the food is stored in coolers with plenty of ice.

Leftovers should be used within three to four days. Leftovers can last to best quality, Goodwin said, for up to a month in the freezer. Leftovers should be transferred into the refrigerator as soon as possible. According to the USDA’s website, foods should be reheated thoroughly to an internal 165 degrees or until hot and steaming.

A few other things residents are advised to do, particularly for cooking for a large group of people, is to make sure everything is kept clean – surfaces, utensils “and, of course, your hands,” Goodwin said.

Another tip is to always use a food thermometer to make sure food is cooked all the way through. Carter said things like hamburgers should be prepared to at least 145 degrees; ground been should be prepared at 155 degrees and poultry should be prepared to 165 degrees – Clemson Cooperative Extension’s Home & Garden Information Center has more information on using thermometers.

More resources on food safety is available at or by calling 1-888-6565-9988.

Residents can also check out; for questions about meat, poultry or eggs call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline.


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