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Food Safety and Nutrition


Alice Henneman, Extension Educator, UNL Cooperative Extension and
Joyce Jensen, Environmental Health Specialist,
Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department

 To help you enjoy your summer, here are some checkpoints for safe grilling the next time you fire up the grill.


Check - ShoppingWhen shopping, choose meat and poultry last, and don't put them in the trunk. The temperature there is too hot and bacteria will grow rapidly. Don't let meat set out for longer than one hour during warm weather. If meat sets out too long, bacteria can produce toxins that can cause illness and stay active even during cooking.

Check - RefrigerateRefrigerate meat and poultry immediately upon arriving home.

Check - when to purchase meatPurchase ground meat or poultry no more than a day or two before you plan to grill it. Otherwise, freeze them. Grill larger cuts of meat, such as steaks, within 4 days of purchase or freeze them.


Thawing meatCompletely thaw meat and poultry in the refrigerator or just prior to cooking in a microwave. Frozen foods do not grill evenly and may be unsafe. Never defrost on the counter—bacteria will begin to grow. It takes about 24 hours to thaw 5 pounds of meat in the refrigerator.

Clean up spillsClean up juice spills immediately so a raw product does not get on a cooked product. Juice spills should be cleaned with a paper towel. If using a dishcloth to wipe up raw meat or poultry juices, wash it in hot soapy water before using it again.

About marinatingMarinate meat and poultry in the refrigerator. Sauce can be brushed on these foods while cooking, but never use the same sauce after cooking that has touched the raw product.

Making pattiesMake ground beef patties about ˝-inch thick by 4 inches in diameter (4 ounces or 4 patties per pound). This helps assure they cook thoroughly and evenly. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) advises patties this size will take 11 to 13 minutes to cook to a safe temperature of 160 degrees F based on beef that has been removed directly from the refrigerator; cooked over medium, ash-covered coals and grilled uncovered (www.beef.org). NCBA advises you to consult your owner's manual for grilling guides for gas grills as brands vary greatly.

Wash handsUnwashed hands are a prime cause of food-borne illness. Whenever possible, wash your hands with hot, soapy water for 20 seconds before handling food. When eating away from home, pack disposable wipes for cleaning hands if no handwashing facilities are available.


Transporting meatsTransport meat and poultry to a picnic site in a cooler kept cold with ice or frozen gel packs. Pack food and cooler immediately before leaving home. Avoid frequently opening the cooler. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in another.

Where to keep the coolerKeep cooler in an air-conditioned vehicle for transporting and then keep in the shade or shelter at the picnic site. Remove at one time only the amount of food that will fit on the grill. Be sure to keep raw meat and poultry wrapped separately from cooked foods, or foods meant to be eaten raw such as fruits and vegetables.


Clean the grillCooking is key to meat and poultry safety. If needed, scrape the grill before grilling. Heat the grill to kill microorganisms before placing meat or poultry on it.

Cooking Ground BeefCook ground beef patties until brown in the middle and juices are clearish with no pink in them when you cut into the meat (160 degrees F). A hamburger can be brown in the middle and still be undercooked. The most accurate way to determine doneness is with an instant-read thermometer.

When is meat done?While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends ground meats should be heated to 160 degrees F to kill microorganisms, the temperature for a steak can be 145 degrees F for "medium rare." A "medium" steak is cooked to 160 degrees F and a "well done" steak is cooked to 170 degrees F. Use a tongs or spatula to turn steaks rather than a fork which punctures the meat and introduces bacteria into the interior of the meat.

Cooking PoultryWhole poultry should be cooked to 180 degrees F in the thigh. Breast meat should be cooked to 170 degrees F. When poultry is done cooking, juices will run clear with no pink when you cut into the meat.

Cooking Beef and PoultryIf you're preparing steaks, ground meat and/or poultry at the same time, use a different knife, utensil or thermometer to check for doneness. For example, don't use the same thermometer to test steaks you used for hamburgers. Remember to wash thermometers in hot soapy water and hot rinse water before and after use.

Adding sauces or spicesAdding sauces or spices to meat may make it look brown before it is done. Brush or sprinkle sauces/spices on the surface of cooked burgers.

Cook meat and poultry at the picnic siteCook meat and poultry completely at the picnic site. Partial cooking of foods ahead of time allows bacteria to survive and multiply to the point that subsequent cooking may not destroy them.

Using Clean tongs or spatulaUse a separate clean tongs or spatula for removing meat or poultry from the grill and place on a clean plate to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked meat.

When in doubt - throw it out!Discard any food left out for more than two hours or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees F. When in doubt, throw it out!



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