The Fourth of July and backyard barbecuing go hand-in-hand. And, along with the burgers and hot dogs, there are a few other things cooks should take with them to the grill.
First and foremost is food safety. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 76 million Americans become ill due to food poisoning each year, and most food-borne infections are undiagnosed and unreported.
Following a few safe-handling food practices can prevent cooks and their guests from becoming another statistic. Among those practices is proper use of marinade. Marinating meat should be placed in the refrigerator rather than left on the counter. Marinade should never be reused.
"Please discard the marinade after use," said Betty English, the Family Consumer Sciences agent for Columbia and Richmond counties. "If someone does use it, it must be brought to a roiling boil."
If vegetables are being grilled along with meat, keep them separate from each other prior to grilling to avoid cross-contamination, and always wash utensils and plates that come into contact with raw meat before using them with cooked foods.
The University System of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service suggests refrigerating any food that isn't going to be cooked immediately.
"Only take what you can use," stressed English. "Any leftovers need to be in a constant 40-degree Fahrenheit cooler. Food needs to be in a 40-degree cooler within two hours after the meal is finished."
For those who will be grilling away from home, use separate coolers to store uncooked meat and ice that will be used for consumption.
"Use two coolers," said English. "Ice is considered to be a food and can become contaminated. Having more than two coolers can eliminate this problem."
When cooking meat on the grill, English said, using a food thermometer is the only way to ensure that meat is properly cooked.
"The only way to check for doneness is with a thermometer," she said. "Mashing a burger with a spatula can be a false positive, meaning that even if the juices run clear, it can still be undercooked."
Ground beef should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees, whole poultry 180 degrees and chicken breasts 170 degrees. Beef, lamb and veal steaks, roasts and chops should reach at least 145 degrees.
Grill safety also is vitally important.
The National Fire Protection Association reports responding to nearly 8,000 home fires involving grills, hibachis or barbecues each year, with about 10 deaths annually. The NFPA reported that those fires cause an estimated $80 million in property damage. One way to avoid a grill mishap this holiday season is to know how to properly use the grill.
Grills should never be placed near the exterior wall of a home and should be placed at least 10 feet away from the house and shrubs. Supervision is a must when grilling, being sure to keep pets and children away.
When using gas grills, the Home Safety Council said to always check the connection between the propane tank and the fuel line to be sure it is working properly and not leaking. If a leak is detected, immediately turn off the gas and do not attempt to light the grill again until the leak is fixed.
To bring a happy -- and healthy -- close to your Fourth festivities, be sure to serve hot food immediately after cooking and refrigerate within two hours of serving. If temperatures outside exceed 90 degrees, then food must be refrigerated within an hour.
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