Grilling your burgers wrong could kill you this holiday weekend

This Labor Day weekend is the unofficial final grilling weekend of the summer, and the first weekend of National Food Safety Education Month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition to practicing social distancing and wearing face masks when appropriate this weekend – and washing your hands regularly – you will want to be safe when it comes time to cook the big meal. Each year, 1 in 6 Americans, about 48 million people, are sickened from eating contaminated food. About 3,000 die and 128,000 are hospitalized, too, the CDC says.

Even though there hasn’t been any major ground beef recalls due to E. coli contamination concerns, you still want to remember that dealing with raw meat can be tricky, and cooking it improperly can be deadly.

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The most recent big food recall involved concerns about salmonella contamination in bulk onions and some ready to eat products made with those onions. So make sure to check that any onions you might use are not among those recalled.

“Cooking food thoroughly and handling it correctly is critically important,” Carmen Rottenberg, a former administrator with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, previously told USA TODAY. “The food produced is not sterile. … People want to cook raw food and prepare it at home. If you prepare it at home, you have to know there are some risks associated with it.”

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When grilling raw meat, there are multiple steps you can take to avoid getting food poisoning, especially with E. coli, which can cause dehydration, bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps three to four days after exposure – and potentially kidney failure in children under 5 years old and in older adults, the CDC said.

Grilling safety tips for your cookout

Here are grilling safety tips for your socially-distanced cookout.

Cook meats to a safe temperature: Use a food thermometer to check that your burgers or steaks have been cooked to a temperature that will help prevent foodborne illnesses from bacteria such as E. coli. Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture changed the recommended cooking temperatures for whole cuts of meat – pork, chops, beef roasts and steaks – to at least 145°F (63˚C) and allow to rest for three minutes after removal from the grill.

Ground meats (beef, pork, veal and lamb) should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 160°F (71˚C) and no rest time is needed.

The safe cooking temperature for chicken and poultry (including ground poultry) remains at 165°F (74˚C).

The Department of Agriculture has a chart showing the safe cooking temperatures for foods.

Marinade no-no: Don’t reuse marinades that have been used with raw meat.

For kabobs, keep meat and vegetables separate: Put peppers, onions and carrots on separate sticks because veggies cook faster than the meat, and you don’t want your meat undercooked.

Don’t use the same plates or utensils: Whatever dish you bring the meats to the grill on – and utensils you use to put them on the grill with – should not be used to take them up, unless cleaned thoroughly. That’s because bacteria from the raw meat can spread to the cooked meat. Have a clean plate or platter and clean utensils to take up food.

Practice cleanliness: You should wash your hands after preparing meats. Also, wash your kitchen counter, cutting boards and utensils after they are used on raw meats.

Beyond meat: Keep chilled certain salads or desserts that were served cold. After being served, cold dishes should not stay outside for more than two hours – and just one hour if it is warmer than 90 degrees outside. Beyond that, toss it.

Special attention needed: Some are more likely to succumb to food poisoning from E. coli; children and newborns, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with weak immune systems are among those more susceptible.

Follow USA TODAY reporters Mike Snider and Kelly Tyko on Twitter: @MikeSnider and @KellyTyko

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Labor Day 2020: How to cook safely at socially-distanced barbecues