A Fourth of July barbecue is a favorite summer activity for many families, but if holiday foods are not prepared or stored correctly, they could cause food poisoning. Governmental health organizations including the USDA and FDA have organized a list of four steps people should take when preparing food to avoid foodborne illness this summer.

Clean

Before preparing food, be sure that hands and surfaces are clean. Washing hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds can help stop the spread of bacteria. Equally important is making sure that the surfaces you prepare raw foods on are clean before you use them, and are washed frequently afterward. Also, be sure to clean raw fruits and vegetables, even those with peels, before you cook with them.

Separate

Prepare raw meats, poultry, seafood and eggs separately from vegetables and cooked foods. Juices from raw meats can hold bacteria that could spread to other foods, so designate separate cutting boards and knives for these items to avoid cross-contamination. These meats should also be kept separate in grocery bags and the refrigerator. At the grill, be sure to put cooked meats on a different platter than raw meat, to avoid the spread of bacteria.

Cook

Be sure that you cook meat all the way through. According to experts, the best way to do this is to use a food thermometer. The color and texture of meat can be deceiving, so it is not a good indicator that the meat is thoroughly cooked. For example, when meat and poultry are cooked on a grill, they can brown quickly and may appear done on the outside. However, they still may not have reached a safe internal temperature. To be sure that your meat is done, place a thermometer in the thickest part of the meat. Whole cuts of pork, lamb, veal and beef should cook to 145 °F. Hamburgers should reach 160 °F. All poultry, and hot dogs should be cooked to 165°F, and for fish the minimum temperature is 145°F. Even after foods are cooked, they should be kept warm, at about 140 °F, and when reheated in the microwave, 165°F or higher.

Chill

After food has been prepared and served, leftovers should be chilled right away. Indoors, perishable food should not be left out for more than two hours. Outdoors, especially if the temperature is higher than 90 °F, food shouldn't be left out longer than one hour. Keeping food at a safe temperature outside can pose a larger problem, as people tend to let food sit out for guests to snack on over the course of a picnic. To avoid letting bacteria grow, bring a cooler packed with ice to store food it. Additionally, let food thaw or marinate in a refrigerator, not on an open counter where it is exposed to more bacteria. In any case, keep a mental note of how long food has been stored so you'll know when to throw it out.

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