During the summer, many people enjoy cookouts with family and friends as a way to celebrate special occasions such as the Fourth of July or unwind from a stressful week.

Follow these guidelines for safe grilling:

Preparing

• Buy ground meat and poultry no longer than one to two days before you are planning to grill. If it is going to be longer, freeze them. Larger cuts of meat, such as steaks, should be grilled or frozen within four days of purchase.

• Thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator or microwave before grilling. Meat thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately. Food should never be thawed on the counter.

• Marinate meat and poultry in the refrigerator. During grilling, avoid brushing the food with the marinade that touched the raw meat.

• Wash your hands before and after handling raw meat and poultry.

• Hamburger patties should be made about ½-inch thick and 4 inches in diameter to help them cook fully and evenly.

Transporting

• Transport meat and poultry in a cooler with ice, and pack the cooler just before leaving. Open the cooler as little as possible.

• In order to prevent cross-contamination, raw meat and poultry should be kept separate from cooked foods and foods eaten raw, such as fruits and vegetables. Pack drinks in a separate cooler.

• The cooler should stay in an air-conditioned car during transportation and in a shaded place once you have arrived at your destination.

• Only take out the amount of food you can grill at one time.

Grilling

• To kill microorganisms, scrape and heat the grill before putting on the meat or poultry.

• Grilled foods brown on the outside quickly, so the only way to correctly determine doneness is to check the internal temperature with a thermometer. Place the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat — away from bone, fat or gristle — near the end of the cooking time. Wash the thermometer between testing different meats and before and after each use. The recommended safe minimum internal temperatures are as follows: 145 degrees for steaks and roasts; 145 degrees for fish; 160 degrees for pork; 160 degrees for ground beef; 165 degrees for chicken pieces or ground patties; and 165 degrees for whole poultry.

Do not flip steaks with a fork, because it can puncture the meat and cause bacteria to get inside.

Remove food from the grill with clean utensils, and put it on a clean serving dish to prevent cross-contamination.

Discard any food, cooked or uncooked, left out of refrigeration for more than two hours, or one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees.

• Jennifer Russell is an area child and family development agent for the Mississippi State University Extension Service. You may contact her at 453-6803 or jtb20@ext.msstate.edu.

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