By Carol Witte, RDN, Director of Nutrition Services and Centers
I love all the seasons in Michigan, but I must admit summer is number one my list! I love the outdoors. There is color everywhere you look—from the beautiful scenery to the bright produce at the Farmers Market. The only thing that tops the vivid colors is the aroma of the trees, flowers, herbs and, of course, alfresco cooking. Grilling and cooking outdoors is something I do often, because it combines my two favorites–nature and healthy food!
Whether you cook out on your own patio, go camping or take a picnic to a park, it is important to prepare and keep it safe! Here are a few summer tips when you plan shopping and grilling out.
Planning & Shopping: Keeping Food Safe
- In the heat of summer make sure you don’t keep grocery items that need to be stored in the refrigerator in the car for too long. One hour should be the maximum time on days above 90°F—two hours for all other days. Store a cooler in your car to help maintain safe food temperatures.
- Don’t forget to clean your cooler and reusable bags before you pack them. Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat food to ensure meat and poultry juices do not contaminate. Pack food in clean tightly sealed containers. To avoid contamination, don’t put ice that was used to pack food into beverages
- Always plan on having extra plates and cooking utensils. Separate and discard plates used for raw meats, poultry and seafood. Use clean plates and utensils (including basting brush) for ready-to-eat foods.
- Wash fruit and vegetables, even those that have peelings, as bacteria can transfer from the knife onto the edible portion. Packaged fruits and vegetables which are labeled “washed” do not need to be washed.
- Marinate meat, poultry, fish and vegetables in the refrigerator. Never leave on the counter or outside! Don’t re-use marinade that was used on raw meat. Also, if you’re using prepackaged marinades, read the labels and nutrition information to avoid those that are high in sodium.
Menu Ideas: Beyond Hamburgers & Hot Dogs
Go Lean Try ground turkey or ground chicken in place of traditional hamburger. If you do choose hamburger, use ground round or ground sirloin, which are lower in fat. Season without added salt. Use herbs and spices like garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, basil, parsley, green onion or shallots. Experiment with new herbs from the Farmers Market. For steaks and pork, choose leaner cuts like sirloin.
Seafood Fresh fish can be grilled whole, in steaks, as filets or on a kabob. Salmon, grouper, shrimp and tuna are great grilling options.
Grill Vegetables Think beyond the typical favorites. Start building your healthful barbecue around fruits and vegetables, which are low in calories, high in fiber, colorful and packed with the nutrients you need. The Farmers Market and your local grocery store have local fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Season and baste vegetables such as red peppers, corn, eggplant, summer squash, sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms or onions and place directly on a hot grill (or a piece of tin foil) until they are tender and brown. Even beets are delicious on the grill! A new treat is to grill romaine lettuce and top with cheese and sunflower seeds or nuts.
Add Grains to Your Meal Try lower sodium crackers, lower sodium whole grain breads or wraps to go along with your grilled food. Try a whole grain pasta salad. Mix in your favorite vegetables along with olive oil, vinegar and your preferred seasonings.
Don’t Forget Dessert Grilled fruits are also scrumptious! Cut peaches in half and sprinkle with a little cinnamon and nutmeg. Grill and serve with yogurt. Fruit kabobs are also fun for a picnic. Clean, season and place on skewers. Refrigerate or keep in a cooler until you are ready to grill. Grill on low heat until the fruit is hot and slightly golden for a tasty and nutritious dessert. You can also grill watermelon for 30 seconds on each side to bring out unique flavors. Find new recipes for grilling fruits with different balsamic vinegars. Cool food down properly and refrigerate any leftovers in small
containers. Even produce like melon, lettuce, cabbage and diced
tomatoes should be refrigerated immediately after cutting.
Food Safety for Outdoor Cooking
Wash Your Hands Bring an extra jug of water, some soap, a roll of paper towel and hand sanitizer if there is no running water available. Wash your hands before cooking, after handling raw meat and before eating. Hand washing is the best, but if you only have hand sanitizer remember to rub it all over your hands, including between fingers and around nails (friction does the trick – for 15-20 seconds).
Clean the Grill When grilling out, start by cleaning the grill. Scrub it with hot, soapy water. Then, when you’re ready to cook, allow the grill to heat up sufficiently to eliminate potential bacteria.
Use a Food Thermometer
Don’t forget the food thermometer! Relying on color alone does not ensure the doneness of meat, poultry and fish. Monitoring temperatures is the only way to be sure food is cooked to a safe internal temperature.
Keep Cold Foods COLD Even foods higher in sodium (like lunch meats) should be kept in the refrigerator or cooler until serving to avoid bacteria growth. (Lunch meats have the potential for a bacteria called listeria, which infects an estimated 2,500 people per year. This bacteria can grow even in the refrigerator, although keeping food at the correct temperature helps to slow down the growth.) Keep coolers out of the sun. The temperature danger zone is between 40-135°F. When food is in the danger zone, bacteria can double in number every 20 minutes. You cannot see, smell or taste harmful bacteria or toxins growing in food. Don’t let food sit out more than two hours if the outdoor temperature is 70°F or cooler. If it is 90°F or warmer, one hour is the limit! It isn’t just meat and mayonnaise that can make you sick— all perishable food, including chopped salads, should be monitored.
Enjoy outdoor cooking, have fun and keep it safe!