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Happy Birthday to our country, celebrate with these food basics

Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday to you. Happy Birthday Dear America on your 242nd Birthday!

On July 4, 1776, we claimed our independence from Britain and Democracy was born. Each year on July 4th, Americans celebrate that freedom and independence with barbecues, picnics, and family gatherings.  It’s our main summer holidays providing a break from school and work, but we shouldn’t break from being smart about food safety. More care is needed since foodborne illnesses increase during the summer. July is National Picnic month and summer picnics are a great way to enjoy the outdoors and each other’s company. Keep your picnics with family and friends healthy and safe this summer by remembering the following tips.

Barbecue Basics and Food Safety:

• Keep it clean. Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. If you’re eating where there’s no source of clean water, bring water, soap, and paper towels or have disposable wipes or hand sanitizer available.

• Two coolers are better than one. Bring two coolers to the gathering, one for perishable food and one for beverages. Keep perishable foods cool by transporting them in an insulated cooler kept cold with ice or frozen gel packs. Open as infrequently as possible. Store drinks in another cooler.

• Marinate food in the refrigerator. Don’t ever marinate on the counter—marinate in the refrigerator. If you want to use marinade as a sauce on cooked food, save a separate portion in the refrigerator. Do not reuse marinade that contacted raw meat, poultry, or seafood on cooked food unless you bring it to a boil.

• Keep raw food separate. Keep your barbecue safe by keeping raw meat, poultry, and seafood in a separate cooler or securely wrapped at the bottom of a cooler. Do not use a plate or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood for anything else unless you wash them first in hot, soapy water. Have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side for serving.

• Seeing isn’t believing. Many assume that if a hamburger is brown in the middle, it’s done. Looking only at the color and texture of food is not enough—you have to use a food thermometer to be sure. According to USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) research, 1 out of every 4 hamburgers turns brown before it reaches a safe internal temperature. The only safe way to know if meat, poultry, and egg dishes are “done” is to use a food thermometer. When a hamburger is cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit as measured with a food thermometer, it is both safe and delicious!

• Keep hot food hot and cold food cold. Keep hot food at 140 F or above until served. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill, or wrapped well in an insulated container. Keep cold food at 40 F or below until served. Keep cold perishable food in a cooler until serving time, out of direct sun, and avoid opening the lid often.

• Dangers of cross-contamination. Cross-contamination is the transfer of harmful bacteria to food from other foods, cutting boards, and utensils when they are not handled properly. It can happen during preparation, grilling, and serving food and is a prime cause of foodborne illness. Remember to wash your hands before and after handling food, and don’t use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Include lots of clean utensils, not only for eating but also for serving the safely cooked food.

• Temperature and time. Keep your barbecues with family and friends safe this summer by remembering that the time perishable food can be left outside the refrigerator or freezer drops from two hours to one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees.

For your next barbecue have a food thermometer, several coolers, ice or frozen gel packs, water, soap and paper towels, enough plates and utensils to keep raw and cooked foods separate, and foil or other wrap for leftovers.

Picnics are popular throughout the summer, and especially in July. One reason they are so popular is because many families take their vacations then and spend much of their time outdoors. The “road” to food safety can either be bumpy or smooth, depending on what precautions are taken handling meals. Check out www.food.unl.edu for more food, nutrition, and health information.  The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline number is 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) -6854) or go to the website at www.IsItDoneYet.gov. By following these tips you should have a safe, healthy and enjoyable Barbecue whenever you decide to the do the honors. Adapted from: Lisa Franzen-Castle, RD, PhD, Nutrition Specialist UNL Panhandle Research & Extension Center.