USDA encourages food safety on holiday weekend

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reminds the public to prevent foodborne illnesses before lighting up the grill and packing up the cooler for Memorial Day.

WASHINGTON — Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is reminding the public to prevent foodborne illness before lighting up the grill and packing up the cooler.

Hot and humid weather combined with outdoor activities provide the perfect environment for harmful bacteria to multiply on food and make people sick.

The following tips are recommended while handling food at a Memorial Day gathering:

♦ If running water is not available, bring soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer or moist towelettes. This will help keep hands clean throughout the day, especially after handling any raw meat or poultry. Avoid cross-contamination by using clean plates and utensils;

♦ Bring portable coolers — one for perishable foods and one for beverages — filled with ice. Perishable items like raw chicken, burgers or appetizers like fresh salsa, guacamole or bean salads should be kept at 40 degrees or below;

♦ Use a food thermometer. Cook meat and poultry to the safe internal temperatures. Checking the temperature is the only way to know if food is safe to consume. Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops) should be cooked to 145 degrees with a three-minute rest time, fish at 145 degrees, ground meats (beef, veal, lamb, pork) at 160 degrees, and whole poultry, poultry breasts and ground poultry at 165 degrees;

♦ Bring the right amount of food that will be consumed at the picnic. If there are some leftovers, do not leave them outdoors for more than two hours;

Foodborne illnesses can be prevented by properly handling food at home or outdoors. The four steps to food safety encouraged by USDA are “Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.”

For more information, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Eastern, or email or chat at

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