Father’s Day is just around the corner. Many of us will celebrate with a day of outdoor activities and tasty meats from the grill. The chef of your household might have the skills to cook the perfect burger, but do they know how to cook a delicious and safe burger? It’s easy if you follow these simple steps.
Step 1: Safe Thawing
If meat and poultry is frozen, be sure to thaw it before grilling so that it will cook more evenly. Never thaw food at room temperature; you need to keep food out of the Danger Zone (between 40 °F - 140 °F) to keep bacteria from growing to dangerous levels.
The safe ways to thaw food are:
- In the refrigerator
- In cold water
- In the microwave. Plan to grill the meat immediately because some areas may begin to cook during the defrosting.
For more details, see The Big Thaw: Safe Defrosting Methods for Consumers or listen to our podcast on thawing.
Step 2: Safe Marinating
For many chefs, a great marinade is the secret ingredient that turns a tough piece of meat into one that’s moist, tender, and tasty. Here’s how to do it safely:
- Always marinate food in the refrigerator to keep it out of the Danger Zone.
- If you’re planning ahead, you can marinate chicken up to 2 days and beef up to 5 days in the refrigerator.
- Never use the leftover marinade as a sauce unless you bring it to a boil first for one minute.
Listen to our podcast on marinating for tips on containers for marinating, amounts to use, and more.
Step 3: Safe Grilling
The secret to safe grilling is to use a food thermometer. It’s the only way to be sure that the food is safely cooked. Check out our Using a Food Thermometer blog post for details.
Step 4: Safe Serving
What’s one of the most common mistakes that people make when they’re grilling? They put the safely cooked food on the same platter that held the raw meat or poultry. Don’t ever do this! When taking food off the grill, always use a clean platter. Otherwise, any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate your cooked food.
Step 5: Safe Storing
If you have any leftovers, chill them promptly in shallow containers in a cooler or refrigerator. Discard any food left out for more than 2 hours. If it’s hot (over 90 °F), discard food left out for more than 1 hour.
If you have questions about grilling, feel free to submit them here. But, if you need an answer quickly, one of the following is your best bet:
- Phone: Call USDA's toll-free Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854).
- Online: Use our automated system, Ask Karen, to search our knowledgebase, submit a question, or participate in live chat.
- Email: Send your question to email@example.com.
Since the nationwide alfalfa sprout recall and the related Salmonella outbreak were announced on May 21, we have received a number of questions from consumers who are concerned about eating sprouts. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions:
Why are people getting sick from alfalfa sprouts?
One of the big reasons is that alfalfa sprouts are not cooked. Like any fresh produce that is consumed raw or lightly cooked, raw sprouts carry a risk of foodborne illness.
What makes raw sprouts different from other raw produce?
The big difference is that seeds and beans need warm, humid conditions to sprout and grow. These are the same conditions that are ideal for bacteria to grow, including dangerous bacteria like Salmonella if they are present.
Is it safer to grow my own sprouts at home?
Not necessarily. In outbreaks associated with sprouts, the seed is typically the source of the dangerous bacteria. If just a few of these bacteria are present, either in the seed or on its surface, they can grow to high levels during sprouting, even if you’re growing them under sanitary conditions at home.
Are raw sprouts riskier for certain groups of people?
Yes. In general, certain groups of people are at higher risk for severe foodborne illness: pregnant women, children, the elderly, and anyone whose immune system is weakened. These groups should avoid eating raw or lightly cooked sprouts as well as and other high risk foods, such as unpasteurized milk and juices, raw fish and shellfish, and soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk.
I think I got sick from eating sprouts. What should I do?
Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12–72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days. In recent years, sprouts have also been associated with outbreaks of E. coli and Listeria. If you think you have a foodborne illness, call your doctor.
If I’m a healthy adult, do I need to take precautions with sprouts?
Cooking kills harmful bacteria, so cooking sprouts thoroughly will reduce the risk of illness. If you’re eating out, you may want to consider asking that raw sprouts not be added to your salad or sandwich.
If you choose to eat raw sprouts, follow these tips:
- Buy only sprouts kept at refrigerator temperature. Select crisp-looking sprouts with the buds attached. Avoid musty-smelling, dark, or slimy-looking sprouts.
- Refrigerate sprouts at home. Refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature of 40° F or below.
- Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw foods.
- Rinse sprouts thoroughly with water before use. Rinsing can help remove surface dirt. Do not use soap or other detergents.
For more information on sprouts, including links to the latest recall and outbreak information, see Sprouts: What You Should Know.
As the national education advisor for food safety at FDA, I’m responsible for getting the word out about keeping food safe, particularly during disasters. And, of all the natural disasters that we face in the United States, the only one that has its own clearly defined season is the hurricane.
The 2010 Hurricane Season in the Atlantic Ocean begins today, June 1. The experts are predicting a busier-than-usual hurricane season for this year. That makes it even more important to be prepared, particularly when it comes to safe food and water.
The best strategy for you and your family? Have a plan in place and be sure everyone in the family knows it. Make sure that your plan includes these food and water safety precautions:
- Use appliance thermometers in your refrigerator and freezer. In case of a power outage, thermometers will help you determine if the food is safe. Freezer temperature should be 0 F or lower; the refrigerator should be 40° F or lower.
- Freeze containers of water for ice to help keep food cold in the freezer, refrigerator, or coolers in case the power goes out. You can also use the melting ice as drinking water.
- Purchase or make ice cubes and freeze gel packs in advance for use in coolers.
- Check out local sources where you can buy dry ice and block ice, just in case.
- Store some bottled water where it will be as safe as possible from flooding.
If the Power Goes Out
Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible
- A refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if you keep it closed.
- A full freezer will keep temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if half-full)
- If the power is going to be out for an extended period of time, buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible. Fifty pounds of dry ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days.
Wash fruits and vegetables with water from a safe source.
For infants, try to use prepared, canned baby formula that does not require adding water. For concentrated or powdered formula, prepare with bottled rather than tap water.
When the Power Is Restored
- Check refrigerator and freezer thermometers. If the freezer reads 40° F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen.
- If you did not use a thermometer in the freezer, check each package. If the food still contains ice crystals, it is safe to refreeze or cook.
- Discard any perishable food that has been kept above 40° F for two hours or more.