Wdowik Nutrition Column: Be a Food Safety Grill Expert

Note to Reporters: Melissa Wdowik is an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and director of the Kendall Anderson Nutrition Center.

Food just seems to taste better when you cook and eat it outside. If you love grilling, you are not alone. This popular activity is at its peak in the summer, and it’s important to do it safely – with food safety, that is.

Your food-safe journey starts at the grocery store. Put your cold food in your cart last, including meat, fish and poultry. Be sure to keep these separate from your other food by putting them in an extra plastic bag and placing them on the bottom shelf of your shopping cart. This prevents cross-contamination, which occurs when raw meat juice touches other food.

Head straight home from the store. If you’re shopping on an especially hot day or you think you might make a stop on the way, take a cooler and ice with you to store the meat, fish and poultry.

Once home, put meats in your refrigerator right away; separate them from other foods. If you won’t be cooking them within 2 days, freeze them.

When you are ready to grill, food safety experts recommend the following, adapted from www.foodsafety.gov and www.fightbac.org.

• Thaw frozen meat, fish and poultry safely in the refrigerator or microwave.

• Wash your hands with warm water and soap before and after touching food. Keep wet wipes or hand sanitizer near the grill if you can’t wash up easily during cooking.

• A marinade helps tenderize your meats and may protect you from carcinogens. Always marinate in the refrigerator to prevent the growth of bacteria, which thrive at room and outside temperatures.

• Discard marinade used on raw meats – don’t brush food you are grilling with it — unless you bring it to a boil to destroy bacteria. A better option: before marinating raw meats, set aside some marinade to use during or after cooking.

• Watch your plates. Once you transfer raw meat, fish or poultry to the grill, wash the plate well with dish soap and hot water, or place it in the dishwasher then wash your hands and get a clean plate for the cooked food.

• Monitor temperatures. Preheat your grill. Once dinner is sizzling, check the food’s internal temperature with a food thermometer. Beef burgers, roasts and steaks should reach 160 degrees. Poultry should reach 165 degrees. Most seafood should reach 145 degrees.

• Keep hot food hot on the side of the grill rack, in the oven or in a slow cooker.

• Keep cold food cold. Once your meat, fish or poultry are cooked, clean all surfaces before taking salads, fruits, vegetables and condiments out of the refrigerator.

• Use the Rule of Twos with leftovers; refrigerate food within 2 hours in containers less than 2 inches deep, and eat within 2 days.