VIRGINIA BEACH — Memorial Day is a time to remember those who have given their lives to the cause of freedom.
It’s also a time when thousands of Virginia Beach residents will be gathering with friends and family to enjoy the great American pastime of cooking out.
But every year millions of Americans get sick with a foodborne illness. Many are caused by hot foods that are allowed to get too cool, and cold foods that are allowed to get too warm.
Why is it important to keep hot food hot and cold food cold?
“When grilling, perishable food items, including raw meat and poultry, need to be handled safely. Bacteria grow rapidly in warm temperatures, so perishable foods need to be kept at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to reduce bacterial growth,” said Larry Hill, Eastern Region spokesman for the Virginia Department of Health. “Perishable foods that are held above 40 degrees for more than two hours should not be consumed.”
In hot weather (above 90 degrees), food should be discarded if it sits out for more than one hour, Hill said.
Cookouts are often afternoon-long events during which food is allowed to sit in the sun for an extended period of time, leading to bacterial growth. Bacteria grows best when a food’s temperature is between 41-134 degrees.
The best way to keep food cold while away from home is to use a cooler, Hills said, with beverages in one cooler and perishable food in another, since the beverage cooler may be opened frequently, causing the temperature inside of that cooler to fluctuate and become unsafe for perishable foods.
Prevent juices from raw meat and poultry from cross-contaminating other items inside the cooler by placing raw meats in waterproof containers before placing them in the cooler, he added.
Meat should be kept cold until it’s ready to go on the grill. Then it should be cooked to the correct temperatures, using a meat thermometer if necessary. Just like when preparing foods inside, clean utensils and plates should be used to help prevent cross contamination.
Cold foods should be served in smaller portions, with the rest remaining in a cooler or inside the refrigerator until it’s needed.
For information about food safety, visit the health department online.