Fourth of July grill with flag and craig's bbq sauce and chicken seasoningon the grill

Fourth of July Cookout Food Safety Tips

Nothing symbolizes summer like a Fourth of July cookout. If you’re eagerly waiting to light your grill up and flip some burgers and dogs, you’re not alone, as more than half of Americans grill or barbeque in celebration. Unfortunately, cooking food outdoors, especially on a holiday like Independence Day, brings some risks to your food and health (and anyone else that eats your food). However, following a few grilling and food safety tips can make your Independence Day cookout run smoothly and keep everyone well.

Clean Your Grill Properly

The day before your cookout, if you haven’t scrubbed down your grill from last season, it’s time to clean it up. Although some grillers believe burning off food is sufficient for cleaning grates, we recommend, in addition to burning stuff off the grates, scrubbing them down with a brass grilling brush. Using a stainless steel grilling brush is also an option. However, know that stainless steel is a more rigid metal, making cleanup quicker; it also can be harder on the grates, and potentially damage the cast iron. 

Avoid Cross-Contamination of Foods

Once you take your place at the grill, it’s easy to cook up hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken, pork, and fish with little regard to keeping raw meat and their juices from touching other foods or utensils. Unfortunately, if cross contamination occurs, people who eat the contaminated food may fall ill or die. Using separate grilling tools, serving utensils, dishes for raw meats, and fully-cooked meats, cleaning and sanitizing your supplies and surfaces can help protect you and your guests from cross-contamination between foods.

Don’t Guess; Use a Food Thermometer

Many backyard grill masters think they know when their food is done by merely looking at its color as they remove it from the grill. Sadly, this is not a reliable method for determining a food’s doneness. According to the Food Inspection and Safety Service (a department under the USDA), more than 25% of hamburgers can turn brown on the inside before they are actually full-cooked. Cooking meats to proper internal temperatures can ensure any foodborne illness-causing germs are killed off. So what are the safe temps for meat? The following are recommendations from the USDA:

  • Beef, pork, lamb, and veal (steaks, chops, and roasts): 145°F (let rest for three minutes)
  • Fish: 145°F
  • Ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal: 160°F
  • Pork: 165°F
  • Poultry (all poultry; including whole or ground): 165°F

TIP: To make grilling hamburgers easier, press fresh ground meat into patties and freeze them with a piece of waxed paper between each. Frozen hamburger patties are handier to grill, and the meat isn’t as likely to fall through the grate and be wasted. Frozen hot dogs do better on a grill, too. Frozen meat should take 50% more time to cook than fresh. 

Keep Perishable Foods at Safe Temperatures

We’ve all done it. Grilled up food, got to eating and left food out for everybody to help themselves throughout the day. Like the importance of cooking foods to a certain temperature, keeping them at a particular temp AFTER cooking is also crucial to prevent bacterial growth. If the outdoor temperature is under 90°F, the rule is never to leave perishable foods outside for more than two hours. Above 90°F, no more than one hour before you must keep foods at or below 40°F. This means place your foods, including meats, leftovers, fresh fruits, vegetables, and cold salads, in a cooler with ice or ice packs or a refrigerator. Last rule: When in doubt, throw it out. (so, if you don’t know how long a food has been sitting out, toss it).

Last, but certainly not least, if you plan on shooting off some fireworks in the same area you plan on eating, don’t. Stray sparks and ashes can turn your food into not-so-tasty treats and turn napkins, paper towels, clothing, and hair into bonfires. Following our grilling and food safety tips will help ensure your July 4th cookout is a wonderful experience that friends and family – and YOU – will enjoy and remember for the rest of the year!