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King of the Grill

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Cookout & Picnic Food Safety

Keep grilled food hot by moving it to the side, away from the coals where it can overcook.

Picnic basket, charcoal, paper plates? Check. Hamburgers, hot dogs, coleslaw, potato salad? No problem.

E. coli, salmonella, other assorted microorganisms? Not on your life.

According to the Retail Foods Division at the Texas Department of Health, you need to take extra precautions with food safety when preparing a picnic or backyard barbecue. That means:

  • Cold food should be kept at 41 degrees F or less.
  • Hot foods should be kept at 140 degrees F or higher.
  • A cooler filled with ice will keep foods well chilled.
  • Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in another.
  • Grilled food can be kept hot until served by moving it to the side of the rack, just away from the coals where it can overcook.

But protecting yourself, your family, and friends from food-borne illness and food contamination begins far in advance of slapping the meat on the grill. Be sure to follow these food preparation suggestions.


Completely thaw meat and poultry before grilling so it cooks evenly. Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing. Microwave-defrost only if the food will be placed on the grill immediately.


Always marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. If some of the marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion separately before adding the raw meat, poultry, or seafood. Don't reuse marinade.


If you partially cook food in the microwave, oven, or stove to reduce grilling time, do so right before the food goes on the grill.


Use a meat thermometer to eliminate guesswork. But if you don't have one, look for signs that the food is done. When you cut into the food, juices should run clear. Hamburgers should be medium well to well done and brown in the middle. Poultry should have no pink to it.


Don't place cooked food back on the plates or pans that held the raw meat or poultry. Serve the food right away. Food shouldn't sit out for more than an hour - and not more than 30 minutes in hot weather.

Leftovers that have been off the grill for less than an hour can be taken home safely in a cooler filled with ice. Drain water from the ice chest regularly.

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