Feel the Thrill of the Grill!


Clean, separate, cook, and chill to have a food-safe cookout.

The Fourth of July is upon us, which for our American readers means Independence Day: fireworks, John Philip Sousa, and of course, cookouts. (To our friends north of the border, we hope you had a happy Canada Day earlier this week.)

If you plan to visit friends or family, you might want to bring something more than just potato salad or ambrosia. According to USA Today, at least one man brings along a meat thermometer. Doug Powell jokes that he doesn't get invited to dinner very often, but nevertheless, he takes the handy gadget with him to every cookout. And for good reason.

Nearly 50 million people a year get sick from a foodborne illness. But if you want to spend the majority of your time in the backyard and not the bathroom (or worse, a hospital), you have the power to prevent the vast majority of those illnesses. The best advice all boils--or grills--down to four simple words: clean, separate, cook, and chill. Food Insight has some handy consumer food-safety guidance here. While you're at it, check out our new Food Safety Facebook tab and feel free to leave a comment.

But getting back to that thermometer again. I'm not exactly known for my cooking prowess, but I decided to have some friends over for a Memorial Day barbecue anyway. Thanks to the vigilance that comes with working at the IFIC Foundation, I made sure to have my meat thermometer handy. She's a real beaut that I got back when I worked at USDA.

I threw down the first batch of patties, cooked them for a bit, flipped them, and watched until they looked done. In my more reckless days, I might have thrown caution to the wind at that point, slapped them on some buns, and served them up. But I like my friends too much to do that. Call me weird.

So I uncapped the meat thermometer, put the probe into one of the burgers, and got my reading: 140 degrees. If you had gone to that food-safety guidance link above, you would have seen that the recommended internal temperature for ground beef is 160 degrees—a full 20 degrees above what looked "done" to me!

Unfortunately, my meat thermometer got such heavy use that the battery died. It's not a AA or AAA battery; it's one of those tiny ones that look like a hockey puck. So before I get too much further into the summer, I'll need to find a replacement.

So don't make the same mistake I almost made. Heed these words—clean, separate, cook, and chill—and you'll have a fun and safe Fourth, along with every other day you grill this summer.