Cook Food Thoroughly, Cool It Quickly

A fireworks display might be the highlight of your family’s Fourth of July celebration, but your refrigerator can be its hero.

That’s because burns, accidents and large crowds aren’t the only holiday dangers you need to protect your loved ones from. In fact, estimates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 128,000 people will wind up in the hospital this year because of food poisoning.

Be aware and take care. Here are some tips for keeping your delicious picnic dinner safe:

Use a food thermometer. One in four burgers isn’t cooked long enough to be safe to eat, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Instead of relying on how pink or brown your meat looks to determine if it’s safe to eat, use a food thermometer. Don’t have one? Neither do 67 percent of American families. Tip: Burgers are safe to eat when their internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.

  • Clean before, during and after food prep. Use soap and water to frequently wipe down surfaces, utensils and even your hands when you’re handling raw meat.
  • Triple up on dishes. Use three separate sets of plates and utensils during a cookout: one for raw meat, another for cooked meat and a third for ready-to-eat food like raw vegetables. This will prevent cross-contamination.
  • Refrigerate. If you’re cooking food in advance of the party, stick the cooked food in the fridge until you’re ready to serve it. Reheating takes way less time than waiting in the emergency room for your turn to see a doctor.
  • Buy a big cooler. If you’re toting cooked food to a picnic away from home, bring a cooler that’s big enough for lots of ice and lots of food. Place leftovers in the cooler within an hour after serving if the outdoor temperature is hotter than 90 degrees, or within two hours at room temperature.