Be aware of the food ‘Danger Zone’

Be aware of the food ‘Danger Zone’

Summertime is in full swing, which typically means an increase in cookouts, parties and celebrations.

As we prepare for these gatherings and as temperatures outside heat up, it is important to remember the food “Danger Zone” between 40 F and 140 F — the range that bacteria grow most rapidly. Specifically, this means keeping hot food above 140 F and cold food below 40 F.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, incidents of food-related illnesses spike in the summer months, just as we’re sharing picnics and barbecues with our families. Based on reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, an estimated 1-in-6 people get sick from a food-borne illness every year with some cases requiring hospitalization. Becoming sick from something you ate could occur in as little as 20 minutes or as many as six weeks later.

Here are a few important food-safety guidelines from the USDA to minimize risk and provide a safe and healthy time for all:

—Make sure you clean all surfaces, utensils and hands with soap and water.

—When grilling, use separate plates and utensils for raw meat and cooked meat and ready-to-eat foods (like raw vegetables) to avoid cross-contamination.

—Cook foods to the right temperature by using a food thermometer. That’s the only way to know it’s a safe temperature. Remember burgers should be cooked to 160 F.

—Chill raw and prepared foods promptly if not consuming after cooking. You shouldn’t leave food at room temperature for longer than two hours or one hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90 F, so if you’re away from home, make sure you bring a cooler to store those leftovers.

Ground beef patties are a great example of the importance of food safety. The USDA has shown one out of every four hamburgers turns brown before it has reached a safe internal temperature of 160 F. A food thermometer is the only way to know if cooked meat it safe to consume. Other internal food temperatures to keep in mind are for poultry, which should reach 165 F, and steak, which should reach 145 F. For answers to other food-safety questions, visit

General grilling safety also is important. Here are a few safety tips from the American Red Cross:

—Keep the grill out in the open, away from the house, the deck, tree branches or anything that could catch fire.

—Open your gas grill before lighting.

—Periodically remove grease or fat buildup in trays below your gas or propane grill.

—Declare a 3-foot “kid- and pet-free zone” around the grill to keep them safe.

—Avoid loose clothing that can catch fire when cooking on the grill.

—Always supervise a grill when in use.

—Never grill indoors: not in your house, garage, camper, tent or any enclosed area.

—Use the long-handled tools especially made for cooking on the grill to keep the chef safe.

Lastly, don’t forget to protect yourself from the sun. The American Red Cross suggests limiting direct sunlight exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen and sunglasses. Remember to reapply sunscreen often and drink plenty of water regularly.

With these reminders and tips, you will be well on your way to a healthy and safe summer.

Sara Meeks is an OSU Extension family and consumer sciences program assistant and may be called at 330-264-8722.

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