COOKING FOR THE 4TH: Food safety key for picnics, and so is picking the proper items | News

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With thoughts of summer picnics and barbecues rising to the forefront, the Fourth of July holiday is an impetus for grocery shopping, cooking, and the need to pay special attention to food safety.

Troy Sanford, owner of Moe’s BBQ on Highway 10, said most food safety is common sense, such as having a clean area and hands. Sanford said the biggest problem for people, who are often inexperienced in cooking foods for Fourth of July, is that they will either overcook or undercook the meat. Cooking meat that is still frozen is another mistake people often make, he said, because it leads to the outside of the meat being cooked one way and the core temperature being cooked another.

“I would suggest for people wanting to barbecue, to do chicken or ribs – something small that can be done in about five to six hours. That way, they are not out there fighting the smoker all day and things of that nature,” said Sanford.

Sanford said if someone is inexperienced and cooking for a bunch of people they should probably stay away from bigger pieces of meat, like brisket, and instead stick with recipes like hot dogs, chicken, burgers, shish kabobs, ribs, and the like.

Angie Taylor, co-owner of the Save A Lot grocery store in Tahlequah, said their biggest sellers for main meals cooked outdoors are hamburgers, hot dogs, and steaks. For sides, she said a lot of people tend to buy things that are easy to eat outside, like chips and corn on the cob.

Taylor thinks the foods people tend to forget to keep cold are from recipes that call for mayonnaise, like potato or chicken salads.

“I mean, definitely, anything, like potato salads, or burgers, or hot dogs before they grill them need to be kept in an ice chest or under ice,” said Taylor.

Oklahoma State Extension Office Family and Consumer Science Educator Heather Winn said there are four main practices in food safety they teach, which involve how to clean, separate, cook, and chill foods.

To ensure safety when cooking food for the Fourth of July weekend, people should keep items clean that are coming in contact with food. Winn said cooks should wash hard surfaces and their hands often, especially after they have been in contact with food.

“One of the big things is that we don’t wash or clean our hands often enough. We just don’t think about the bacteria under our fingernails,” said Winn

Keeping foods separate to avoid cross-contamination is another big factor in food safety. Winn said raw meats should remain separate from other foods not only when they are being cooked, but when they are in the refrigerator and being bought at the grocery store. When storing meat in a refrigerator, consumers are to place the meat on the bottom shelf, in case the packaging leaks.

Cross-contamination can also be avoided by either washing or using different plates, when taking food off of the grill or smoker. Winn also said people preparing the food should avoid using the same knives to cut vegetables and meat.

Ensuring that food is being cooked to the correct temperature, by always using a food thermometer, is another way to prevent a diner from getting sick from Fourth of July foods.

Winn said if food is at room temperature, it should not be outside no more than two hours, but if the temperature is over 90 degrees, it can only be out for a maximum of one hour.

To avoid cross contamination and bacteria forming, the preferred method for thawing meat is in the refrigerator and not in the sink. Winn said that if thawing using a refrigerator is not possible then people can use the “cold water method,” which is where the meat is placed in the sink with cold water running over it. When using the “cold water method” the water should be changed every 30 minutes.

When going to the grocery store, Winn said, that refrigerated items should be picked up last to make sure that they stay fresh longer. She said that freezing an item does not stop bacteria from growing as it only slows the process.

“From the minute you put [your refrigerated food] in the buggy that timer for your food starts,” said Winn.

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