Senior Beat

Senior Beat: Food safety tips for good grilling

By Carol Taylor Higgins

Special to The Weekly

It’s almost Memorial Day. For many people, that means it’s time to unwrap and dust off the grill. As Mainers, we wait a long time to hear the meat sizzle on the grates and inhale the accompanying unmistakable, mouthwatering aroma.   

Now, almost everyone loves cook-outs and all the fixings that go with them. However, nothing spoils the fun faster than food poisoning. And you cannot always tell when something has become dangerous just by smelling it. I have seen it time and again. My own spouse will take a whiff of something I am suspicious of and declare that it is still good. I usually have my doubts and typically respond, “Fine, you eat it.” My mother is the same way. “Just cut around the mold, Dear.”

Contaminates are everywhere. Our hands can be virtual hot beds of germs just looking for a place to set up shop. One of the best ways to prevent food poisoning is to wash your hands repeatedly so that whatever is on your hands is not transferred to your food. If raw chicken or beef touches anything, such as skin, utensils or vegetables, the bacteria from the meat is transferred.  

Always have separate utensils for raw and cooked food. Inconvenient? Sure. But better than the alternative. And we’ve all seen meat and assorted salads sitting out awaiting hungry diners. But, there may be some uninvited guests, namely bacteria, building communities on these summertime treats.

           Food, even cooked food, can grow bacteria and can be dangerous if allowed to get to room temperature. For instance, people worry about mayonnaise but even a potato salad without mayonnaise would still be hazardous if allowed to get warm. It is safest put food away within an hour of serving.

Food poisoning would cause a younger person to feel sick for a while, but could be fatal in an elderly person. And they can become dehydrated very quickly which can have dangerous consequences.

           As hot food cools, or cold food warms, any germs that were not completely killed during cooking will have a prime breeding ground. Warm and moist places are bacterium paradise.

When at a barbeque remember if a certain food is supposed to be hot and isn’t – don’t eat it. If it is supposed to be cold and isn’t – don’t eat it. At home, be ever vigilant, as well.

Here are few tips to help keep your next party safe:

–Wipe surfaces often, especially if they have been used for food preparation. Use a sanitizing solution of one capful of chlorine bleach per gallon of water for cleaning work area surfaces. Be sure to label the bottle carefully so it is not used for something else later like misting plants.         

–Marinate food in the refrigerator, never on the sideboard, and never reuse the marinade.

–Do not store food containers out in the open. Instead put them in the shade where they have a better chance of staying cool before being filled with leftovers. If possible, set the bowl into another larger bowl with ice on the bottom.

–Keep plates, cups, utensils and food covered until ready to use.

–Don’t prepare and serve food if you have been sick within the past 24 hours.

–Pack plenty of paper towels for wiping hands and surfaces. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer may be in order too.

–Get a food thermometer. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s website, www.usda.gov, the safe minimum internal temperatures for meet are: whole poultry: 165 °F, poultry breasts: 165 °F, ground poultry: 165 °F, ground meats: 160 °F and beef, pork, lamb, and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145 °F and allow to rest at least 3 minutes.

—Wash produce carefully and vigorously with water. I use a vegetable citrus based produce cleanser which removes even more grime. And it has a fresh fragrance.  

So, to recap, while it’s tempting to smell an item to determine freshness, don’t. And clean is not the same thing as sanitized.

Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. Email her at seniorbeat@gmail.com.

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