Safe Grilling for the Fourth of July

WASHINGTON — This time of year is prime time for food poisoning. It’s all because we love to grill and dine outside.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates more than 81 million Americans will attend a cookout this Fourth of July weekend, and far too many may become part of a grim statistic: the roughly 48 million who come down with food poisoning each year.

One way to protect yourself, your family and your guests is to use a food thermometer to check meat and poultry for “doneness.”

Chris Bernstein, director of Food Safety Education at the USDA Food Safety and Inspection service, said it is the best way to make sure cooked food is safe to eat.

“There can be pathogens on or near uncooked food that you cannot see with the naked eye, and you are never really sure that has been killed, unless that food reaches a safe internal temperature,” he said.

It’s 160 degrees for beef and pork, and 165 degrees for poultry — including chicken breasts and turkey burgers.

Bernstein said it is a far better method than trusting your eye or poking at the meat, noting USDA research that shows one in four hamburgers actually turns brown on the inside before reaching that temperature threshold.

Another big tip: never put cooked food back on the same plate you used to carry it to the grill. That’s because even a tiny bit of raw juices left on that plate can become a breeding ground for bacteria and result in cross contamination.

Bernstein said at home he even goes so far as to have two sets of utensils — one to put the raw food on the grill and another to take the cooked stuff off. But for those who don’t want to mess with extra tongs and forks and the like, he suggests keeping utensils you are using next to the heat so it can kill any bacteria that may build on the surface.

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