Tips and Tools for Safe Food Preparation

Many people enjoy the longer days of summer with backyard barbecues and other outdoor activities, sometimes making food the centerpiece of get-togethers. But before firing up the grill, it’s important to have the right tools and be aware of safe food preparation to avoid getting foodborne illnesses.

Cooking food to the right internal temperature, as measured by a food thermometer, is the best and only way to make sure bacteria have been killed and the food is safe to eat, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Only about 34 percent of people use a food thermometer when cooking hamburgers, according to recent research by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“Using a food thermometer ensures meat is done cooking,” said Cathy Clark-Reyes, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health Primary Care. “And if you haven’t used the food thermometer in a while or if you’ve dropped it recently, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s calibrated before use.”

Each year, 48 million people suffer from foodborne illness, resulting in about 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates.

To avoid becoming part of these statistics, follow these safe food handling tips from the USDA and Ms. Clark-Reyes.

  1. Clean: Always wash hands and surfaces before starting to cook and each time after touching raw meat or poultry. Another place bacteria can hide is inside cuts and grooves on cutting boards, says Ms. Clark-Reyes. She recommends throwing away cutting boards when you can see too many cuts on the surface.
  2. Separate: Use clean utensils and plates when taking food off the grill. Don’t place cooked and ready-to-eat foods back on a surface where raw meat was stored.
  3. Cook: Always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat and poultry. Place the thermometer in the thickest part of the food. Cook meats to these Fahrenheit  temperatures:
    Cook to 145 degrees:
    Fish and whole cuts of pork, lamb, veal and beef.
    Cook to 160 degrees: Hamburgers, sausages and other ground meats.
    Cook to 165 degrees: Minimum temperature for all poultry.
  4. Chill: Place leftovers in shallow containers and refrigerate or freeze immediately. Shallow containers allow the food to cool down quicker.



Even though it’s been cooked, food that’s been sitting out for hours in the heat has been in the ‘danger zone’ for a while. Ms. Clark-Reyes says the ‘danger zone’ is the temperature at which food is most conducive to bacterial growth, typically between 40 and 140 degrees, she says. Perishable food should be stored at 40 degrees or below.

“When in doubt, throw it out,” Ms. Clark-Reyes adds.

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