Food safety 101: Protect yourself, others

Reminders for safer barbecues, picnics and parties

(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

DETROIT – The experts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture want to help you avoid common mistakes that could make someone you love sick.


We'll start with this question: Do you know how many people contract a foodborne illness each year? It's a big number. We'll share the statistics with you at the end of this article. First, let's review the 4 common mistakes that can lead to serious health issues.


First, avoiding using one cutting board for all your slicing and dicing. It's critical that you avoid cross-contamination. As you probably know, bacteria can live on raw meats, but they're killed when the meat is cooked thoroughly and completely. However, if you cut raw meat on a cutting board and use that same cutting board to slice and dice other foods, the bacteria can spread.


"You want to use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood. And, another cutting board for those ready-to-eat items... veggies and salads," said Chris Bernstein, Director of Food Safety Education at the USDA. 


There's another careless cross-contamination mistake that can happen after you cook your burgers or chicken.


"You don't want to put food that has just been cooked on the grill on the same plate that you carried raw items out to the grill," reminded Bernstein.


You also have to remember to keep your cold foods cold. Many of us pack up our meals and bring them to the beach or a picnic area and you're away from your refrigerator.


"You really want to make sure you nestle perishable foods in a bowl of ice or you keep things in a cooler to make sure they're not at warm temperatures for too long," Bernstein said. 

Use a food thermometer

The number one piece of advice: use a food thermometer to make sure you've cooked your meats thoroughly and completely. Experts say you cannot always tell just by looking at the meat.


"One in four hamburgers actually turns brown completely inside before its reached a safe internal temperature of 160 degrees," Bernstein said. 


He also says too many people are not using a food thermometer and it's time to embrace the helpful technology. "People smoked 50 years ago when they didn't know it was bad for them. They might not have used seat belts. So, as our society grows, we learn all of these tools that can be helpful for us to stay healthy."


Remember beef, steak, chops should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees, ground beef and pork 160 degrees, and all poultry, including turkey burgers 165 degrees.


You can buy meat thermometers at any grocery store or big box store that sells items for your kitchen. They cost about $5 to $20 dollars. 


Finally, the number of people who get sick because of food poisoning each year is significant. Forty-six million Americans get sick, 128,000 need to be hospitalized, and about 3,000 people die each year. 

How to find expert assistance

If you're even in doubt about proper food safety procedures, the USDA has made it easier to get all the help you need: 

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