Holiday grilling: pandemic forces new precautions

Food safety is more important than ever this year. NBC's Sarah Dallof reports.

(NBC News) — For millions of Americans nothing says “Happy 4th of July” like the sizzle of a grill, and due the coronavirus pandemic more small groups are expected to barbecue this year.

That’s prompting a reminder about food safety from the United States Department of Agriculture.

“We don’t want to have a time that’s one of celebration turn into one of hospitalization and sickness,” says the USDA’s Dr. Mindy Brashears.

The department recommends a four-step process: clean, separate, cook and chill.

That means you should wash your hands, keep uncooked meat separate from other food, and heat it to the proper temperature:
160 for sausage, 145 for steak, and 165 for turkey and chicken.

“Those temperatures are important,” Dr. Brashears says. “We usually think ‘Is it done? Is it palatable?’ but this is for food safety, so we want to make sure we cook it properly.”

This year, serving up that food may look a little different.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Frank Esper suggests individually plated food instead of a buffet style service to avoid potentially spreading COVID-19, especially when it comes to high-touch foods like chips and dip.

Eating and celebrating outside is safer than indoors, but still make sure you’re socially distancing.

“This virus is still out there,” Dr. Esper warns. “It’s still infecting people and it’s still hurting people.”

The USDA recommends leftovers be chilled within an hour if dining outdoors, and two hours if indoors because summer temperatures make bacteria grow faster.

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