State Health, Agriculture Commissioners Urge Food Safety for Memorial Day Weekend

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 22, 2008) – State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., and State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker today reminded all New Yorkers to cook meats thoroughly and to prepare fresh produce properly when planning picnics and barbecues during this Memorial Day weekend.

"Family picnics and barbecues can be fun and safe by practicing food safety this Memorial Day weekend," said Commissioner Daines. "The good news is that most foodborne illness is preventable with proper food preparation. Foodborne illness can cause symptoms of fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain that in some cases, may require medical attention."

"Backyard barbecues are one of my favorite things to do with family and friends this time of year – the grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, the homemade salads and the farm fresh produce make the perfect meal for summertime outings," Commissioner Hooker said. "But even a simple meal can be ruined if you don't take the proper precautions to prevent foodborne illnesses. So whether you are out in the yard or at a state park, remember to follow these basic guidelines."

Dr. Daines stressed that foodborne illnesses increase during the summer because harmful bacteria grow fastest in warmer temperatures. Temperature control is the key to safe food preparation. Bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature, but do not grow well at temperatures at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Perishable foods like poultry, shellfish, eggs and dairy products should be refrigerated if they will not be used within two hours.

Cooking food thoroughly to the appropriate temperatures will destroy bacteria. Use a thermometer to check food temperatures when grilling, cooking or broiling meat. The internal temperature should be at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit for beef, veal, lamb, pork and ham, and a minimum of 170 degrees Fahrenheit for poultry. Once the foods reach the safe cooking temperatures, the food should be eaten or held hot at a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above to ensure that bacteria don't have an opportunity to grow. You cannot tell simply by looking whether meat is cooked enough to destroy harmful bacteria.

Food Preparation Recommendations

  • Keep work areas clean; cook thoroughly.
  • Wash hands, utensils and cutting boards in hot, soapy water before preparing food and after handling raw meat or poultry.
  • Use a plastic cutting board instead of a wooden one. Bacteria can hide in grooves on wooden boards and multiply.
  • Cook meat thoroughly, to at least 160° F. Red meat is done when it's brown or gray inside. Poultry juices run clear; fish flakes with a fork.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly. Do not eat raw eggs, or cake batter and salad dressing containing raw egg.

Food Safety Tips For Red Meat, Poultry, Fish and Eggs

  • When preparing meat, remember to thaw in either a refrigerator or microwave oven; never leave meat out at room temperature. Once thawed, finish cooking immediately.
  • Ground beef should be cooked thoroughly until it is 160 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent possible transmission of E. coli, a dangerous type of bacteria, primarily found in raw and undercooked ground beef. Use refrigerated beefsteaks, roasts and deli meats within three or four days. All refrigerated poultry should be used within 48 hours.
  • Poultry should be cooked thoroughly to 170 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the possible transmission of salmonella. Salmonella is a bacterium that is found in meat or poultry and eggs. Salmonella has no smell or taste, making it difficult to detect.
  • With hot soapy water, wash all knives, cutting boards and other utensils used to prepare raw meats, eggs, dairy products and other perishable and temperature-sensitive foods.
  • Keep raw and cooked foods separated, so they do not contaminate each other. Use a clean dish for cooked burgers, meat and poultry.

Important Food Safety Tips For Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

  • Thoroughly wash all fresh fruits and vegetables. Check for blemishes and imperfections; cut away discoloration and bruises.
  • Prepare fruits and vegetables with clean utensils, on a clean surface to avoid cross contamination.
  • Consume prepared fruits and vegetables within four hours. If not, they should be refrigerated.

Always take fire safety precautions when cooking on a barbecue grill or outdoor fireplace. Make sure the cooking location is at a safe distance from flammable objects, including buildings, camp equipment, trees and picnic tables. Keep all children and pets away from your cooking area. While cooking, protect yourself from burns by wearing a heavy apron, using oven-style mittens and long-handled utensils, and keeping a fire extinguisher or a bucket of water or sand close to your cooking site.

Using frozen juice boxes or plastic jugs of frozen water is also recommended to keep foods cold in a cooler or picnic basket in addition to freezer gels and ice. The frozen juices and water help to keep food products cold and then could be consumed as they defrost. Plastic lunch boxes, insulated sacks and containers should be washed with soap and water, and thoroughly dried before and after using. Separate insulated containers should be used to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.

With a little planning, your family and friends can enjoy safe nutritious picnics and outdoor barbecues all summer long. For information about foodborne illness and proper food preparation, contact the Health Department's toll-free hotline at 1-800-458-1158 or visit www.nyhealth.gov. To contact the Department of Agriculture and Markets about proper food handling, call its toll-free hotline at 1-800-554-4501 or visit www.agmkt.state.ny.us.