Watch your meat in the heat

Exercise caution in these days of warm temperatures because they are ideal conditions for foodborne bacteria

It’s picnic and BBQ season! Exercise caution in these days of warm temperatures because they are ideal conditions for foodborne bacteria to thrive and multiply quickly. To protect yourself, your family, and friends from foodborne illness, safe food handling when eating outdoors is crucial.

The most important things to remember when cooking during the summer season are time, temperature and cross contamination. Keeping food at proper temperatures – indoors and out – is critical in preventing the growth of foodborne bacteria. The key is to never let your food remain in the “Danger Zone” – between 4°C and 60°C (40° F and 140° F) – for more than two hours.

Cold, perishable food should be kept in the cooler at 4°C (40° F) or below, until serving time. Once served, it should not sit out for longer than two hours. Food in individual serving dishes can be placed directly on ice, or in a shallow container set in a deep pan filled with ice. Drain off water as ice melts and replace the ice frequently. Hot food should be kept hot, at or above 60°C (140° F), wrap it well and place it in an insulated container or on a burner set on low until serving. These foods should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours.

Meats should be thawed in the refrigerator, not at room temperature. Sealed packages can be thawed in cold running water. Defrosting meat in the microwave is acceptable, if placed immediately on the grill.

Cross contamination occurs when bacteria or disease causing microorganisms are transferred from one food item to another. Prevent cross contamination by: keeping raw meat away from other foods so juices don’t leak out onto other foods; using separate utensils, cutting boards, dishes, and other cooking equipment for raw and cooked meats; washing your hands carefully with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meat. Finally, thoroughly wash and dry all cooking equipment, utensils, work surfaces, and reduce bacterial contamination by spraying or soaking surfaces with a 10 per cent bleach solution.

Purchase and use a digital stem thermometer to take reliable internal temperatures of cooked food. The following internal temperatures are recommended for food safety: rare beef steaks and roasts or eggs:  63°C (145°F); fish: 70°C (160°F); pork or ground beef: 71°C (160°F); food mixtures (containing poultry, eggs, meat and fish): 74°C (165°F); and the dark meat of poultry: 85°C (185°F).

For more tips, go to  Interior Health’s website for the  Life Begins At 40 degrees brochure or Health Canada’s Food Safety Tips for Barbecuing at

– written by Rose Soneff, community nutritionist, in collaboration with Pamela Narayan and Cindy Chui, UBC dietetics program students.