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Q. I’m planning an outdoor barbecue this summer for my family and friends. What can I do to make sure the food is safe to serve?

The weather here in Iowa is perfect this time of year for backyard barbecues and outdoor family gatherings. Unfortunately, food-borne illnesses also tend to peak in the summer months, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service.

One reason is that bacteria tend to multiply faster in warmer weather. Another reason is people are cooking outdoors more, away from refrigerators and washing facilities of a kitchen.

Next time you’re grilling out, remember these four easy steps to help protect your family and your summer guests from food-borne illness:

Clean: Wash hands, utensils and cooking surfaces often. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before handling food and after using the bathroom, handling pets or changing diapers.

Separate: Cross-contamination during preparation, grilling and serving food is a prime cause of food-borne illness. Avoid raw meat juices coming into contact with ready-to-eat foods, and don’t use the same plate for raw meats as you use for grilled meats or vegetables.

Cook: Meat and poultry cooked on a grill browns very fast on the outside. Cook all raw beef and pork cuts to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, as measured with a food thermometer. Cook all ground beef and pork to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Cook whole poultry, poultry breasts and ground poultry to an international temperature of 165 degrees. Allow the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving for safety and quality.

Chill: Refrigerate foods promptly, within one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold, perishable foods like luncheon meats, cooked meats and salads should be kept in an insulated cooker packed with several inches of ice, ice packs or containers of frozen water.

For more tips on safe food handling when grilling outdoors, click here.

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