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How to Practice Food Safety When You’re Barbecuing

barbecue food safety tips

Every region of the world is known for its specific brand of cuisine or cooking specialty and the United States is no exception, being known for its flavorful barbecue.

Within the United States every region has its own distinct brand of barbecue, and nowhere is this more true than in Texas. While many states may have their own distinct style, Texas is known for having wildly different styles of barbecue just in the state.

Whether it’s central Texas’s indirect heat and dry rub method, the barbacoa of South Texas, the direct heat method of the west, or the slow-cooked and sauce-heavy method of the east, barbecue in Texas is extremely diverse.

Texas barbecue is as much a cultural statement as it is a culinary art because barbecue has been ingrained in the Texas culture since it was known as the Republic of Texas. Nearly every town, no matter how small, has a barbecue place that practices its own unique style of barbecue.

However, with so much diversity in barbecue practices comes diversity in food safety practices as well. While diversity in barbecue is a good thing, everyone should follow the same food safety standards. Your customers should be able to eat their beef brisket knowing it’s not going to give them food poisoning.

Prevent cross-contamination

Cross-contamination is the process by which bacteria or other microorganisms are unintentionally transferred from one substance or object to another, with harmful effects. Contamination can occur through many different mediums such as cutting boards, knives, or any other cooking surface.

You wouldn’t want the pathogens from the beef flanks you just cut to get into the potato salad that you just made, which is why it’s essential to take a few basic precautionary measures. These measures include the following:

  • Washing your hands often and before preparing another item
  • Washing cutting boards, dishes, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing  each food item and before you go on to the next item
  • Covering any open containers of food when storing them

Everyone knows that not washing your hands after using the bathroom is gross, but few people know how gross it is if you don’t look out for cross-contamination. Just like you can spread dangerous germs by not washing your hands after using the restroom, you can spread germs to your customers’ food by not keeping your hands and tools clean and sanitized.

Cook meat to proper temperatures

Another important tool in the fight against dangerous food-based germs is ensuring meat is cooked to the proper temperature. Germs thrive in the same temperatures that people do, which is why it’s essential to only eat meat that has been cooked to a temperature that is no longer a temperature paradise for pathogens.

Every true pitmaster has an eye for when his meat is done, but it’s important to be 100% sure, which is what meat thermometers are for. With a meat thermometer, you no longer have to estimate when the meat is at a safe temperature to eat.

Because every type of meat has a specific minimum safe cooking temperature, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has put extensive research into ideal cooking temperatures. If you want to know more about the minimum safe temperatures of more foods, check out our Cooking Times and Temperatures Poster.

Cooking meat to the right internal temperature can be the difference between foodborne illness and that melt-off-the-bone barbecue flavor. Use the chart below to know which meat has to be cooked to which temperature because even the smallest of degrees matter.

Meat Minimum Safe Temperature Recommended by FDA
Brisket 160°F
Ground beef 160°F
Sausage 160°F
Chicken 160°F
Beef ribs 145°F
Steak 145°F
Tri tip 145°F
Pulled pork 145°F
Pork butt 145°F
Pork tenderloin 145°F
Pork ribs 145°F
Pork chops 145°F

Display a consumer advisory when necessary

In order to capture the best flavor of a cut of meat or cater to a customer request, there are times you may purposefully undercook certain types of meat. This can help retain those succulent flavors that really make a steak perfect, but it also comes with an increased risk of foodborne illness.

If your establishment serves undercooked meat such as rare and medium rare steaks or undercooked pork, the FDA requires you to post a consumer advisory. A consumer advisory is a written statement, usually on the menu, that warns customers that certain food items can be undercooked and will carry an increased risk of foodborne illness.

Displaying a consumer advisory benefits your establishment in three ways:

  1. It enables your customers make informed decisions about their food.
  2. It helps protect you if someone gets sick after eating at your establishment.
  3. It makes it very clear to your staff which types of meat can be served undercooked. (Basically, it comes down to one thing: Don’t undercook poultry ever!)

For more information on consumer advisories, read our article “How to Write a Consumer Advisory.”

Control temperature of all TCS foods, not just meat

Time/Temperature Control for Safety (TCS) foods are foods that require special time and temperature controls to prevent pathogen growth. TCS foods are also known as Potentially Hazardous Foods (PHFs) or perishable foods.

We’ve already talked about the temperature controls necessary for meat, but there are many other types of TCS foods that need temperature controls as well. Because TCS foods have all the ingredients germs need to grow, including high carbohydrate and protein levels and moisture, it’s vital to limit the time they spend at certain pathogen-friendly temperatures.

The most pathogen-friendly temperatures are between 41°F and 135°F, or the temperature danger zone.

Aside from meat, a few common TCS BBQ foods include potato salad, coleslaw, and baked beans. That means that you need to hold these foods at a safe temperature in order to stop germs from spreading and making the food unsafe to eat.

People often don’t think that they can get sick from something like baked beans that have been out for too long, but the fact is that you can get sick from a lot of common foods if you don’t follow food safety practices. An easy rule of thumb is if the food is served warm then it needs to be held at a temperature above 135°F. If it is served cold, hold it at a temperature below 41°F.

So next time you are out barbecuing your meat to perfection, don’t forget about the side dishes. Because no matter how great your barbecuing skills are, what customers are going to remember is not the perfectly seared meat that you prepared, but when they got sick from the coleslaw that sat out all day.

Learn more food safety tips to prevent foodborne illness

Everyone has heard about the dangers of salmonella and E. coli, but no one thinks that it could come from their restaurant until it actually does. However, these problems can all be easily sidestepped if your restaurant follows basic food safety principles.

There’s a lot to remember about food safety if you want to avoid dangerous foodborne illnesses that can keep you out of work and keep your customers away from your barbecue. If you want to feel completely secure about your food safety practices and be officially certified, then look into getting your Texas-approved food handlers card/license.

— Josh Wilford

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