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“We often worry about firework safety – and that’s important,” says Jewel Bronaugh, VDACS Commissioner, “but it is just as important to follow key food safety recommendations, especially when cooking outdoors.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thousands of Americans suffer from foodborne illness each year, resulting in roughly 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. But those who integrate key food safety steps into their cookout plans can provide everyone with a great AND safe time this Fourth of July.

An easy first step

The easiest way to stop the spread of bacteria around the kitchen is by washing your hands. Before starting food preparation, make sure you wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Dry them with a clean towel or disposable paper towel. Also wash your hands immediately after handling meats and poultry. This is the best way to avoid cross-contamination of other foods, spice containers or preparation surfaces.

Other important steps include:

·         Setting your food station table well

Use items that keep cold foods cold and hot food hot. This will help to keep perishable items out of the danger zone (40-140 F).

·         Cooking to the Safe Temperature

Cook all meat and poultry to the safe minimum internal temperatures as measured by a food thermometer. Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145° F with a three-minute rest time; fish: 145° F; ground meats (beef, lamb, veal, pork): 160° F; whole poultry, poultry breasts and ground poultry: 165° F.

·         Keeping Food Safe

If you plan to have a burger or hot dog toppings bar with items like mayo, sliced tomatoes or avocado, be sure to keep them cold by placing them on a tray of ice. Replenish the ice as needed. Perishable food items should not be left outside for more than two hours if the temperature is at or below 90°F, and only one hour if the temperature is at or above 90F. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours (one hour if temperatures are at or above 90 F). If you are not sure how long food has been sitting out, throw it out immediately.

For more food safety information call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at (888.674.6854) Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, or email or chat at AskKaren.gov.

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