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Hurrah for Labor Day!

Posted by Diane Van, USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline in Health and Safety
Sep 03, 2010

Labor Day is the last “hurrah”—as in, “Hurrah! The hottest January-July period on record worldwide is at an end.” This is documented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but most people felt the heat without official confirmation.

Labor Day is an official holiday dedicated to American workers’ social and economic achievements, and for many parents, it marks a much needed break as the kids return to school. It’s also the last big grilling holiday of the year, so all-in-all, “hurrah” for a great day to relax and grill out.

You may say, “But I’m not going to quit grilling after Labor Day,” and you’re right. “Over 60 percent of Americans are grilling year-round and nearly half grill during winter months,” according to a report from the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association.

The USDA urges that no matter what time of year you’re cooking out, do it safely. And that begins with keeping food at safe temperatures.

  • Thaw meat and poultry in the refrigerator before grilling or smoking it, but never thaw food at room temperature.
  • Use the microwave oven for rapid thawing, but smoke or grill the meat immediately because some areas may begin to cook during the defrosting.
  • Always marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
  • Keep meat and poultry in the refrigerator until time to place it on the grill.

Keep everything clean.

  • Wash hands with soap and warm water before and after handling meat and poultry products.
  • Be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters.

Separate don’t cross-contaminate. When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter. Don't put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate safely cooked food.

Cook food to a safe minimum internal temperature. Use a food thermometer to ensure that meat and poultry reach a safe minimum internal temperature.

  • Beef, veal and lamb steaks, roasts, and chops may be cooked to 145 °F.
  • All cuts of pork to 160 °F.
  • Ground beef, veal, and lamb to 160 °F.
  • All poultry should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F.

Chill leftovers promptly. Refrigerate any leftovers promptly in shallow containers. Discard any food left out more than 2 hours (1 hour if temperatures are above 90 °F).

Above all, have a safe, relaxing holiday!

For more information on smoking and barbecuing, go to the Food Safety and Inspection Service’s fact sheets on barbecue and smoking.

Category/Topic: Health and Safety