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MASON CITY | Independence Day will be celebrated with fireworks, parades and picnics. The Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health reminds Iowans to keep food safety in mind as they grill those hot dogs, brats, and burgers.

“When large gatherings like holiday-related picnics and meals happen, we typically hear about people getting ill with diarrhea and vomiting from foodborne illnesses,” said Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, IDPH medical director. “Most of these illnesses are caused by improperly cooked or stored foods.”

One of the most important things to remember is to keep the hot foods hot and the cold foods cold. “When people go on picnics and prepare their food outdoors, it can be difficult to maintain proper food temperatures. It’s important to pack your cooler one-third with ice or ice packs, and two-thirds with food,” said Brian Hanft, environmental health service manager, Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health. “The only food you should actually prepare at the picnic or cookout is the food you cook on the grill.”

To make sure you, your family and friends have a healthy holiday, remember the following tips:

-- Cook all meats thoroughly, especially ground meats like hamburgers and sausages (like bratwursts). Use a meat thermometer to ensure the middle of the meat has reached a temperature that will kill the organisms that can make us sick. Cook chicken to 165 F, ground meats like hamburger to 160 F, and whole meats like steaks or pork chops to 145 F. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, make sure meat is cooked until there is no pink visible in the center and the juices run clear.

-- Marinate foods in the refrigerator - not on the kitchen counter or outdoors. In addition, if you plan to use some of the marinade as a sauce on the cooked food, set aside a portion before adding the raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Don’t reuse marinade, as this can re-contaminate the food.

-- Keep cold food cold and hot food hot by transporting them separately in insulated bags or coolers. Whether in your car or on the picnic table, illness-causing bacteria can grow in many foods within two hours and during the summer heat, that time is cut down to within one hour.

-- Don't reuse platters or utensils. Using the same platter or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood allows bacteria from the raw food’s juices to spread to the cooked food. Instead, have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side to serve your food.

-- Have a way to wash your hands prior to eating. For example, if picnicking, bring soap and water or hand wipes so that everyone can clean their hands before they eat.

For more information on preventing foodborne illness, visit www.cghealth.com.

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