Fourth of July Fixins: Safety Dos and Don’ts
It’s the eve of America’s love fest with fire, flags and frankfurters. Before we get this red-white-and-blue jamboree started, let’s inhale some pre-barbecue air and fasten our food safety seat belts.
The pointers that follow may seem ridiculously obvious, but they bear repeating; in the heat of the charcoaled moment, some of the smartest people I know start doing stupid stuff like this guy:
So, before you don those beer googles, do put on that thinking cap and wear it all weekend if you can, particularly if food and the great outdoors are involved. A handful of my tried-and-true tips for safe outdoor feasting:
1. Keep cold things cold and hot things hot. The “danger zone” for food-borne bacteria is 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. At home, keep those salads and sides cold until serving; while out at the park or beach, keep the cold stuff in a cooler and return to the cooler when not using. Stuff that sits out on the picnic table is an open invitation for bacteria to party like it’s 1999.
2. Clean that grill grate. I mean, give it a really good scrub with a wire brush and get rid of stuck-on bits of food and carbon build-up. A clean grill is a happy grill — more efficient, less moody.
3. Charcoal grillers, do me, your neighbors and the ozone layer a favor: Give up the lighter fluid, once and for all, and let go of those petroleum distillates. Instead, buy a chimney starter to fire up those coals. Think of it as a new toy rather than a flame buzzkill. It’ll set you back about $15 and will last a whole lot longer than a 64-ounce squeeze bottle of the liquid starter.
4. If you don’t already own one (and you should, doggone it), treat yourself to an instant-read thermometer to know when your meat has arrived at a safely cooked temperature. Pork, beef and lamb can be cooked to varying degrees, depending on preference.
Keep in mind these temperature checkpoints: Medium rare is 125 or so; medium is 135ish and well-done is 160 degrees. I’m aware that some of this doneness advice conflicts with the earlier mentioned ‘danger zone’ warning, but I’m also not going to discourage you from a medium-rare steak if that’s what rocks your world. Commonsense is key here. Chicken, however, must be cooked thoroughly, to a ballpark of 160-165 degrees.
If meat is your thing, may I put in a word for sourcing those chops, burgers and steaks locally from a butcher or a farmer — a person you can have a conversation with about how the animal was raised and processed, rather than at no-name meat counter or frozen aisle of products from an industrial feedlot from any number of locations around the world.
5. Drink plenty of water and alcohol in moderation. And if you’re drinking the hard stuff, designate a driver. The car will be there the morning after, and we’d like you to be, too.
Champing at the bit for more Fourth Feasting tidbits? Join me at 1 ET (10 a PT) for my live chat on Culinate.
Here’s to a safe and scrumptious Fourth weekend!