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What you need to know about grilling safety

Questions received to USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline about grilling meat and poultry increase during spring and summer months. In anticipation of warmer weather, Diane Van with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service answers some of those questions.

Do you have guidelines for buying meat and poultry? What’s the best way to handle them safely?

— At the store, choose packages that are not torn. Make sure they feel cold. If possible, put them in a plastic bag so leaking juices won’t drip on other foods.

— Make fresh meats the last items to go into your shopping cart. Be sure to separate raw meat from ready-cooked items in your cart.

— Have the cashier bag raw meat separately from other items, and plan to drive directly home from the grocery store. You may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables.

How should I store fresh (raw) meats at home?

Refrigerate or freeze fresh meats and poultry as soon as possible after purchase. This preserves freshness and slows the growth of bacteria. They can be refrigerated or frozen in the original packaging if you plan to use them soon.

If refrigerated, keep at 41 degrees F or below and use ground meats and poultry within one or two days. Use beef, veal, pork and lamb steaks, roasts and chops within five days.

For longer freezer storage, wrap in heavy duty plastic wrap, aluminum foil, freezer paper, or plastic bags made for freezing. Meat and poultry will be safe indefinitely if kept frozen at 0 degrees F but will lose quality over time.

Never leave raw meat, poultry, or any perishable food out at room temperature for more than two hours (one hour at 90 degrees F or above).

Is it done yet? How can I tell when my meats are safely cooked?

Meat and poultry should be cooked to a safe temperature to destroy harmful bacteria that may be present. Color of meat and poultry is not a good indicator of safety. Use a food thermometer to make sure meats have reached a safe minimum internal temperature.

— Never partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.

— Keep hot food hot! After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served – at 140 degrees F or warmer. Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook. If you are at home, the cooked meat can be kept hot in an oven set at approximately 200 degrees F, in a chafing dish, slow cooker, or on a warming tray.

I worry about my father-in-law forgetting to take a clean plate to the grill for cooked meat and poultry. Is it safe to use the same plate for raw and cooked meats?

No. To prevent foodborne illness, don’t use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and their juices can contaminate safely cooked food. You can either use a clean plate for the cooked meat or wash the one that held the raw meat.

Can I refrigerate or freeze leftover cooked meat and poultry?

Yes, if you refrigerate them promptly after cooking (within two hours, one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees F). They can be safely refrigerated for about three or four days. If frozen, they should keep good quality for about four months.

If you have any other questions about grilling meat and poultry, you may contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 toll-free.

Clark County Health Department provides programs for the entire family, including WIC, HANDS, family planning, well child care/immunizations, and home health care. For more information on all of our services, please call 859/744-4482 or visit our website at www.clarkhealthdept.org.