Monday, August 02, 2010


Safe food handling a must at summer barbecues

There’s nothing better than mom’s home cooking, but there is usually room to improve on her food safety practices.

As I dig my teeth into her juicy steak, I can’t help but visualize it thawing out on a plate on the floor next to her wood stove. Part of me remembers how I grew up with habits such as these, while the other part of me knows better.

The reality is, we go on thinking that we’ve never been harmed by mom’s unsafe food handling—but how do we really know we weren’t sickened by those traditions on occasion?

Here are some summer food safety tips that will help keep you healthy during the remainder of your summer barbeques:

• Never thaw your meats out on the counter. The proper methods for thawing are to keep them in the refrigerator until no longer frozen, or let the meat run under cool running water until ready for cooking.

• You should designate separate cutting boards at home for raw fruits and vegetables versus raw meats. It’s very easy to cross-contaminate – for example bacteria growing on raw meat touches raw fruits or vegetables, increasing the likelihood that you could get sick.

• Always use separate plates for raw and cooked meats when grilling.

• Never let hot or cold foods sit out at room temperature for extended periods of time. If food has sat out at room temperature, be sure to discard it after four hours. If the weather is hot, don’t let food sit out longer than one hour.

• Be aware of what foods are potentially hazardous. Potato salad, or any salad made with mayonnaise, can go bad quickly. Another food to be careful with is melon. Often times, bacteria lives on the outer rind of the melon, and when you cut it, pushes the bacteria from the knife into the melon, contaminating it. Always wash melon prior to cutting before you use it for that summer fruit salad.

Another basic tip is to practice good hand-washing techniques prior to cooking or handling food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands for at least 15 seconds under warm running water. Summer cook-outs and gatherings are meant to be fun, but making sure that everyone walks away free of food-borne illness is just as important as having good tasting food.

Whitney Bundy is a registered dietitian and Director of Food and Nutrition Department at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Bundy or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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