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4 Hidden Dangers In Your Summer Cookout

TIME Health
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With Memorial Day around the corner, there’s no doubt many Americans will be heating up the grill and hosting a cookout or two over the weekend. While the BBQ picnic has become an American mainstay for the holiday weekend, there are several things that can go wrong, including contaminated food that can make us sick. Each year, around one in six Americans gets ill from eating food that's been tainted with bacteria. That’s why it’s so important to follow good cooking hygiene and safe practices.

Here are a few tips for keeping your cookout safe this weekend—and all summer.

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Produce

—Before you buy produce, or any food for that matter, it’s a good idea to check if its been recalled. You can check that, here.

—Always wash your fruits and vegetables before eating and cooking. (This, according to experts, includes fruit that you peel, like oranges or bananas; compliance seems unlikely on this one.)

—The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends using a brush to scrub harder produce, like melons or cucumbers.

—Be sure to keep fruit and vegetables separate from raw meat to avoid cross contamination.

—When you store your produce before the cookout, make sure your refrigerator temperature is 40°F or lower, and the freezer at 0°F or lower. This will help avoid spoilage.

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Meat

—When you’re buying meat and poultry at the grocery store, the CDC recommends putting those items in your shopping cart right before you check out. This way you can make sure the meat is kept cool for as long as possible.

—Consider carrying meat home in different bags from your other grocery items or asking the cashier to put it in a small plastic bag.

—Wash your hands immediately after handling and cooking raw meat, and clean off any work surfaces.

—You don’t want the juices from raw meat to mix in with other food, so make sure you keep your cooking station separate, and discard any packaging that has come in contact with the raw meat.

—Consider using a meat thermometer to make sure your food is well cooked. Sometimes meat will looked cooked on the outside but not on the inside. Here’s how hot your meat should be cooked:

  • 145° F for whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal
  • 145° F for fish
  • 160° F for hamburgers and other ground beef
  • 165° F for all poultry and pre-cooked meats, like hot dogs
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Grill

—Keep your grill clean, and make sure bristles from wire scrubbing brushes don’t get stuck on the grill and then lodged into foods like meat.

—If you cooked some food ahead of time, reheat the meat to 165° F.

—Be aware that grilling meat at high temperatures can create carcinogenic chemicals. Eating grilled meat in moderation is advised. Keep in mind that the World Health Organization (WHO) also recently announced that processed meats in general are carcinogens and that red meat is likely a carcinogen as well.

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Leftovers

—Foods that are precooked or ready-to-eat should be consumed as soon as possible, the CDC says.

—Deli meat shouldn’t sit longer than five days in the fridge.

—Opened packages of hot dogs shouldn’t be kept for longer than one week.

—In general, it’s good practice to eat leftovers within four days, the CDC advises.

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