May 25, 2010
It's BBQ season: Handle food wisely, use common sense

Traditionally, the launch of barbecue season is Memorial Day weekend, which leads us to consider these disturbing numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

It cautions that "foodborne diseases cause 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the United States each year. Practicing simple food safety steps is the easiest way to avoid getting or giving food poisoning this summer."

With that in mind, food-safety expert Tom Chestnut of NSF International reminds backyard cooks of some common-sense guidelines. NSF is a nonprofit "public health and safety organization."

1. The safest way to thaw frozen food is to let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. "It should be covered with aluminum foil or plastic wrap (adequately secured to ensure there is no opportunity for cross-contamination) and placed in a shallow pan on the lowest shelf of the refrigerator," Chestnut advises. Never defrost frozen food by letting it sit at room temperature.

2. To marinate food, put it in a plastic container or plastic bag and store it overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, remove the food from the marinade, then throw away the marinade. Never use it to baste food on the grill.

3. "Cross-contamination" means spreading bacteria from one food to another "via dripping juices, hands, utensils and plates." Wash your hands and cooking tools often.

4. To prevent bacteria from growing, hot foods should be kept hot (140 degrees and above) and cold foods should be kept cold (40 degrees and below). Wrap and put away leftovers immediately.

5. Invest a few dollars in the cook's best friend - an instant-read thermometer - to "ensure food has reached a safe internal temperature.

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