Chef Essig's Featured Item of the Week = Safety Tips For Cooking Out
Are you one of those die hard winter grill masters who will shovel out a couple feet of snow to get to the grill... with tongs in one hand and a flashlight in the other? If so, you probably enjoy this time of year when outdoor cooking and dining become much easier.
Having a meal outdoors with friends and family is one of the rituals of spring and summer, but there are some food safety items you should go through before firing up that grill or setting out the picnic blanket.
Clean Your Grill
During the winter months, you may have had some unwanted pests use your grill as their home. You want to make sure to wash, sanitize, and then re-season your grill to start the season off right.
Once cleaned, fire up your grill and allow it heat for at least an hour, then re-season your grates with some fresh oil.
Check Your Fuel & Fittings
If you use a gas grill, start with a full tank, and make sure your fittings are clean and secure. You can test for leaks by using a spray bottle filled with soapy water. Spray it around the fittings and see if any bubbles appear or if the water sprays back at you.
If you use charcoal, clean out any old charcoal and clean the pit. Starting fresh is not only safer, but it will also ensure that all flavors imparted to food during cooking are good ones.
Just as spring is a good time to sharpen those shovels and lawn mower blades, you may also want to clean off the old grill brush and any grilling tools you have.
There is nothing worse than having a nice clean grill and then scrubbing it with last year's BBQ sauce stuck to the old brush.
Now on to the cooking...
Be A Clean Cook
Before you start grilling, make sure to wash your hands, clean up the area where you will be cooking and eating in, or if you have been working in the garden or out tending to outdoor duties... clean up before you cook.
If you are a planner, then you will have pulled out what you are going to grill from the freezer days ahead of time. Maybe you bought it fresh today. But if you are like me, you often decide to grill out at the last minute and need to thaw something quickly.
The best way to thaw is in the refrigerator. Allow your food to stay in the fridge until it has thawed completely. This can take a bit of time (depending on the size of the product), so you may not have that option. The next best way is to put the frozen food in a container and place it under running water until the product has thawed. The water should be no more than 70 degrees, and it should be in the water no longer than 3 hours.
What you DO NOT want to do is what our grandparents used to do... pull the meat out of the freezer and put it on the counter all day to de-frost. Bacteria these days is not what it used to be. Bacteria double every 20 minutes and can get you really sick if food stays at warm temps for too long. So thaw your food properly to make sure it is safe.
Once you have food thawed, you may want to marinate it. Again, make sure you have it in the fridge while it's marinating.
Use a tong or fork to turn raw products, and don't contaminate the fully cooked products with raw juices from the marinade.
Preventing Cross Contamination
Many food borne illnesses are caused by dirty utensils or surfaces contaminating ready-to- eat products. If you cut up meat on a cutting board, make sure to wash it and sanitize it thoroughly before cutting any ready-to-eat foods like your salad... especially if you're using the same knife.
This concept is also important when you start cooking on the grill. Be aware of what you touch with the tongs. If you touch a raw piece of meat, you can transfer bacteria over to the cooked product if you are not paying attention. It may be a good idea to have a separate pair of tongs for cooked products or make sure to heat sanitize them before removing cooked items from the grill.
Cooking To The Right Temperature
Every good cook should have a food thermometer that can be calibrated. Make sure it is clean, calibrated, and ready to go before you start.
There are different kinds of bacteria in foods. Salmonella, for example, is most often associated with chicken, e-coli with beef, trichinosis with pork, etc.
Different foods should be cooked to different temperature to ensure you kill off the suspect pathogen. Use your thermometer to ensure your food reaches the following temperatures:
- Beef Steak: 145 Degrees
- Ground Beef: 155 Degrees
- Chicken: 165 Degrees
- Fish: 145 Degrees
- Sausages: 155 Degrees
- Whole Muscle Pork: 145 Degrees
- Injected Meats: 165 Degrees
- Reheated Items: 165 Degrees
Hot Food Hot & Cold Food Cold
This is a basic concept of cooking... but also a safety concern. Just as with thawing, you do not want food to be within certain temperature ranges for too long, otherwise bacteria can grow to dangerous levels; that temperature range is 41-135 degrees. If food is within this range for more than 4 hours (which includes the time it took to thaw and cook the food as well as serving), then it should be thrown out.
It's something to be aware of the next time you get an urge for a second helping of that potato salad that has been sitting out all day in the sun. You may be paying for that decision later.
Nobody Likes A Pest
Keep flies and other pests away from food the best you can. Keep food covered or sealed and shoo them away as much as possible. They will find the food quickly and can infect your food just as quickly. Flies especially love to stomp around in nasty stuff lying around your yard (or the nearby manure pile) so you don't want their dirty feet on your food.
Cleaning Up & Putting Away
Leftovers can be great, but they can also pose a great amount of risk of food borne illness. To make sure your encore presentation of yesterday's meal is safe, cool it down quickly. Once again, temperature is important. You want to take hot food from at least 135 degrees down to 41 degrees or below as quickly as possible. If it has been in this range for more than four hours, throw it out. If not, then get it cold, fast.
When you go to reheat your food, make sure to do so to at least 165 degrees, no matter what it is. Bacteria produce toxins in food left out for too long. These can cause more than a little stomach ache, maybe even hospitalization.
Enjoy the warm months ahead and all of the gatherings with friends and family this season brings... as well as some great food!
Here in Dining Services, "We Feed The Bears!"
Happy Dining from Executive Chef Essig!
Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA
(Certified Executive Chef, Certified Culinary Administrator)
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