Food Poisoning: Meaty Madness

Food Poisoning: Meaty Madness

Summer fun often includes outdoor cookouts. Who doesn’t like good food grilled to perfection? Sadly, food poisoning can make things less appetizing — fast. When temps and spirits are high, so is the risk for food contamination at your weekend picnic or backyard barbecue. 

Fortunately, there are some easy steps you can take to keep your family safe from foodborne illnesses.

To start, let’s dispel the myths and "meat" the truth!

Myth: You should wash chicken prior to cooking.
Many people think that rinsing chicken prior to cooking gets rid of harmful bacteria. Washing raw chicken or meat can, in fact, spread bacteria by splashing uncooked juices onto the sink, countertops and other kitchen surfaces. Cooking poultry to the appropriate temperature (internal temperature of 165° F for chicken and 160° F for beef) will kill any bacteria that may be on the meat.

Myth: Coming down with food poisoning is just a matter of bad luck.
With all the news about food recalls and food poisoning outbreaks, it may seem like danger is everywhere. Does food poisoning really come down to something as random as which bag of spinach you happen to choose at the grocery store? While it's true that food can become tainted during growing, harvesting and processing, the majority of food poisoning cases occur closer to home. Fortunately, there's plenty you can do to minimize the risk for foodborne illness in your kitchen.

Myth: Microwaving food helps kill bacteria.
Some people believe that microwaving is a safer way to reheat foods because the electromagnetic radiation kills bacteria. Not true. The method of cooking (microwave versus oven) really isn’t important. What really matters is the internal temperature reached during cooking. No matter where or how you reheat your leftovers, be sure the food reaches an internal temperature of 165° F. That will ensure any bacteria that might have developed since the food was first prepared are killed.

Myth: You can tell if a hamburger is done by its color. If the meat is brown—with no traces of pink—it's safe to eat.
Not necessarily. Sometimes meat can appear fully cooked even though it hasn't reached a safe internal temperature (160° F for ground beef). The only way to tell if meat is cooked thoroughly is with a food thermometer.

To help keep you and your family safe from food poisoning, lose the fear, forget the myths and remember the basics:

  • Clean – Wash your hands and surfaces often
  • Separate – Keep raw meats separate from other foods and use different cutting boards
  • Cook – Use a food thermometer to check temps
  • Chill - Refrigerate perishable food (meat, seafood, dairy, cut fruit and some veggies and cooked leftovers) within 2 hours

These steps can help prevent illness from bacteria. If you suspect food poisoning and you need to see a doctor, where you go matters. Do your research about ERs versus urgent care now, so you know where to go when there’s an emergency.

Happy grilling!

Sources: Four Steps to Food Safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill; leaving site icon Foods That Can Cause Food Poisoning, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023; Food Poisoning, leaving site icon MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2021

Originally published 6/1/2016; Revised 2021, 2023