An estimated 48 million people suffer from foodborne illness in America each year; that means 1 in 6 ill people, with roughly 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths according to the CDC. Public health and food safety urge the public to heed these tips for a happy holiday.

Since foodborne bacteria thrives and multiples in warmer temperatures, Fourth of July festivities can be a hotbed for foodborne illness. The Danger Zone is the temperature range between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F in which foodborne bacteria can grow rapidly to dangerous levels that can cause illness. Leaving food out in the Danger Zone for too long is one of the most common mistakes that people make.

The USDA’s food safety experts from the Meat and Poultry Hotline routinely help consumers asking about perishable foods being left out too long. Below are their recommendations on how to avoid the Danger Zone this Fourth:

  • Without refrigeration or a heat source, perishables should not be left outmore than two hours if the temperature is at or below 90 ⁰F,and only one hour if the temperature is at or above 90 ⁰F. Since theweather will likely be very hot on July 4th, food should be returned to the cooler within an hour. If you are not sure how long food has been sitting out, throw it out immediately.
  • Always keep cold food COLD, at or below 
  • Pack an appliance thermometer in your cooler to ensure food stays at or below 40 °F. Divide large amounts of food into shallow containers for fast chilling and easier use.
  • Packing drinks in a separate cooler is strongly recommended, so the food cooler isn’t opened frequently. Keep the cooler in the shade, and try to cover it with a blanket or tarp to keep it cool. Replenish the ice if it melts.
  • Use the food thermometer to check the internaltemperature of meat, poultry and seafood, and read below for more specific information.
  • If you plan to marinate meat and/or poultryfor several hours or overnight prior to the event, make sure to marinate them in the refrigerator – not on the counter. If you plan to reuse the marinade from raw meat or poultry, make sure to boil it first to destroy any harmful bacteria.
  • To ensure safety, leftovers must be put in shallow containers for quick cooling and refrigerated to 40 ⁰F or below within two hours.

With people spending more time handling, preparing, and serving food outside, they are away from the sink, and clean food surfaces and kitchen equipment.

Many people think the inside color of grilled burgers (pink or brown) indicates if they’re safe to eat. However, the USDA has shown that one out of every four hamburgers turns brown before it has reached a safe internal temperature. Using a thermometer is the only way to know if cooked meat is safe to consume. With that being said, the FDA has found that only 23% of those who own a food thermometer use it when cooking burgers.

With consumers spending an estimated $400 million on beef in preparation for the holiday, these four food safety tips will help you keep foodborne illness away from your fun:

  • Clean: Make sure you clean all surfaces, utensils, and hands with soap and water.
  • Separate: When grilling, use separate plates and utensils for raw meat and cooked meat and ready-to-eat foods (like raw vegetables) to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Cook: We’ll say it again and again, cook foods to the right temperature by using a food thermometer; the only way to know it’s a safe temperature. Remember, burgers should be cooked to 160°F.
  • Chill: Chill raw and prepared foods promptly if not consuming after cooking. Again, you shouldn’t leave food at room temperature for longer than two hours (or 1 hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90° F), so if you’re away from home, make sure you bring a cooler to store those leftovers.

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