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May 27, 2013

Staying safe during your Memorial Day cookout

Nobody wants to start the summer with a stomach ache -- or worse. But, it probably will happen as people dust off the grill this Memorial Day weekend for the first cookout of the summer.

"When you fire up the grill to cook out this summer, make sure you are extra vigilant in taking the appropriate safe food handling steps to prevent foodborne illness," says Agriculture Department (USDA) Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. "Foods commonly served at cookouts can carry pathogens that can make people sick -- especially those most vulnerable to foodborne illness such as young children, the elderly and pregnant women."

The most popular picnic items, including prepared salads, chicken, hamburgers or hotdogs, are at risk of contamination with foodborne bacteria. USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) says following four basic food safety steps -- clean, separate, cook and chill -- during all cooking practices can help reduce foodborne illness.

Clean

Begin your cookout with a clean slate -- literally. Wash preparation surface areas with warm soapy water, especially after contact with raw foods.

Wash your hands with soap under warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food. Make sure anyone who helps prepare food washes their hands as well.

Separate

Raw meat and juice from raw meat can contain harmful bacteria. To prevent cross-contamination, keep all raw meats and poultry separate from vegetables and cooked foods. Use different cutting boards and knives to prepare meats and vegetables.

Cook

After you've fired up the grill, remember the most important weapon in your food safety toolbox: the food thermometer. Proper heating temperatures kill foodborne bacteria. Despite what many people believe, color is not a reliable indicator of doneness.

Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often brown quickly and may appear done on the outside, but still may not have reached a safe minimum internal temperature to kill any harmful bacteria. The food thermometer gives you an accurate reading of internal temperature.

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