THE RECIPE BOX – Grilling and food safety

THE RECIPE BOX – Grilling and food safety

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Cooking outdoors was once a summer only activity shared with friends and family. Today, many more Americans are cooking outdoors year round.

This year in Rhode Island, due to the pandemic, gatherings of more than five people (at the time of this writing) is prohibited, but that does not mean you should not barbecue this Memorial Day!

In my family, we grill year-round, whether there is snow on the ground or grass to cut, whether it’s just for the two of us, or the whole family. Regarding food advisories, Lynn Pereira, intern, Food Safety Education Staff, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA, said, “We are not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging. However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices (i.e., wash hands and surfaces often, separate raw meat from other foods, cook to the right temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly) when handling or preparing foods.”

There are safety guidelines to follow to prevent food borne illness, as these illnesses peak during the summer. Naturally, bacteria are present everywhere – in dirt, air, water and on our skin, but they multiply faster in warmer weather and prepping food outdoors is more challenging due to a lack of clean water to wash your hands and utensils.

This year, as we have become hyper-vigilant about hand-washing due to COVID-19 we are a step ahead of ways to cut down on cross-contamination when cooking outdoors. Improperly cleaning kitchen tools and surfaces can add to the risk when raw food touches cooked foods.

Food-borne bacteria grow best between the temperatures of 90 to 110 degrees, so when refrigeration is not possible such as at camp-outs and picnics, it is most important to follow some safety protocols recommended by the USDA: “Clean, separate, cook and chill.”

When you pack your cooler, be sure to separate raw meats, poultry or fish, by wrapping them securely to keep the juices away from everything else. Also, do not use a plate that held raw meat until it has been washed in hot soapy water. A meat thermometer can assure you know if the correct temperature has been reached inside your grilled meat.

It is not a good idea to pre-cook meats before an outing, as this allows for bacteria to begin to survive and multiply. The USDA advises that raw meat be completely cooked at the picnic site. The safe internal temperature for poultry is 165 degrees, ground meat is 160 degrees, and beef, pork, lamb and veal chops or steaks should be cooked to 145 degrees internally. Simply put, keep cold food cold and hot food hot!

It may seem like common sense, but if you’re driving with a cooler keep it in the least sunny and coolest part of the vehicle. The USDA suggests that you plan foods that do not require refrigeration such as nuts, fruit, hard cheeses, veggies and dried meats along for the road trip. And if you are picking up takeout food, do not keep it unrefrigerated for any more than two hours.

Finally, a common mistake is in not refrigerating leftovers quickly enough. Any food left out for more than two hours may not be safe to eat. And if the outside temperature is 90 degrees or hotter then one hour is all you get before your food will begin to spoil. USDA says play it safe, “Put leftover perishables back on ice once you finish eating so they do not spoil or become unsafe to eat.”

More than ever before we are aware of the importance of not spreading germs. By washing your hands, covering your sneezes into the crook of your arm and keeping things at the correct temperature we have some control over the spread of bacteria.

We have all learned how much our families matter to us during this terrible pandemic and by taking some simple precautions we can carry that care into the kitchen also. If food is love, then food safety is even more love.

Note: You can reach the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline toll free at 1-888-674-6854 year-round weekdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Garlicky Grilled Shrimp Kabobs


1 lb. jumbo tiger shrimp

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste


1. Soak wooden skewers, about 15 minutes in water

2. Combine garlic, oil, salt and pepper

3. Coat shrimp with mixture

4. Grill kabobs over medium-hot grill until slightly brown

5. Turn to coat other side

6. Let meat rest 5 minutes before serving

Grilled Red Bliss Potato Salad


1 lb. red bliss potatoes

1/2 cup whole grained mustard

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup sherry wine vinegar

1/4 cup fresh parsley

1/4 cup fresh chives


1. Wash and slice potatoes, leaving skins on, and grill over medium-low heat until slightly brown and tender. Larger potatoes will work best. Leave slices large enough so they won’t fall into grill, or use a grilling basket.

2. Combine remaining ingredients and fold together.

3. Serve warm. Enjoy!