Don't Let Food Poisoning Spoil Your Party
Keep your cookout or picnic safe with these tips
Labor Day symbolizes a farewell to summer. Most kids head back to school (if
they're not back already), vacations are memories, and routine returns to our
lives. To celebrate summer's end, many of us enjoy the beautiful weather by
having a cookout with family and friends.
Grilling keeps the heat out of the kitchen and can be great fun -- as long
as you practice safe food-handling and cooking. Food poisoning can ruin the
loveliest garden party! A little attention to detail can keep food-borne
illness from creeping onto your menu.
An Uninvited Guest
Just how common is food poisoning? Some 76 million cases of food-borne
illness, resulting in 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, are reported
to the government each year, according to the CDC. Large-scale outbreaks linked
to restaurants make the headlines, but far more often, food-borne illness
begins at home.
Research published in the February 2004 Journal of the American Dietetic
Association indicated that about 25% of all food-borne illnesses result
from poor food handling and preparation in the home. The two most common
mistakes are not cooking the food to the proper temperature, and failing to
When those uninvited guests creep into your meal, they can wreak havoc. Food
poisoning symptoms come in all forms: chills, fever, dizziness, headaches,
vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. Many people mistake the symptoms for
Keeping Food Safe at Home
Food safety starts at the grocery store and continues until food is served.
Every step of the way, there are important safeguards to stop harmful organisms
from multiplying and causing illness.
You can prevent most food-borne illnesses by following some simple
- Wash your hands often -- before, after and during food preparation and
- Clean grills with hot, soapy water before firing them up.
- Keep coolers, containers, knives, grill tongs, forks, and cutting boards
- Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meats and for cooked
meats, and still another set for produce.
- Always use a meat thermometer to determine whether meat is done. Meat fork
thermometers make it easy to check burgers and other flat foods.
- Refrigerate food promptly after you buy it, and no more than two hours
after you serve it. In very hot weather, don't keep food out longer than one
- Use one platter for raw meat and another for after it's done.
The Heat Is On
Any chef will tell you that overcooking your food on the grill can ruin a
good piece of meat, poultry, or fish. Cooking to the proper temperature not
only kills the germs, it also brings out the flavor of the grilled food. But
overcooking food makes it tough as well as increases the amount of potential
The trick is to grill it just long enough to make it safe to eat without
turning it into a piece of leather. For most meats, there's only one way to do
that: with a meat thermometer. Cook burgers to 160 degrees, poultry to 170-180
degrees, steaks and chops to 145-170 degrees, sausages or hot dogs to 165
degrees, and seafood until it flakes.