How safe is our food?
Bacteria free tips for summer cooking

Glen Vienneau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Jun 30/00) - Now that summer is attracting many of us outdoors there is one consideration we should remember before pulling out the barbecues -- food poisoning.

Everything from outdoor cookouts to family backyard barbecues, bad food spells disaster.

Brad Colpitts is the regional senior environmental health officer with the Stanton Regional Health Board and has a few simple rules to ensure everybody safe.

Foremost is personal hygiene, he says.

"That's sort of the number one golden rule. Not only to prevent yourself from getting food poisoning of some sort, but also for most diseases in general," he says.

Colpitts suggests food handlers should wash their hands before and after food preparation, especially after using the washroom.

"I think that people don't realize, in general how important that is."

Practising good hygiene also helps to prevent the spreading of bacteria to other foods being prepared.

It also means washing the food preparation area with hot water and soap. Using bleach to kill leftover bacteria in that area is also wise.

Washing fruits and vegetables is also important.

Then, there's proper food storage. In the great outdoors an insulated cooler with ice packs is a must

It keeps the foods safe from insects and other potential contaminants.

This will also keep the food at a safe temperature.

"Keep cold foods that are supposed to be cold, cold in a cooler. And keep foods that are supposed to be hot, hot," Colpitts says.

Guidelines advise a safe hot temperature of about 60 C, and safe cold at about 4 C.

"The temperatures in between those are what we call the danger zone. Between those temperatures bacteria can multiply very rapidly."

That applies to perishables, such as meat, poultry, fish and dairy products or any foods containing those items, he says.

Thawing is also important.

"These types of foods should be thawed in the refrigerator if they're frozen, not out on the counter overnight," he says, adding that the exterior of frozen items rest at unsafe temperatures longer than it takes for the inside to thaw.

"That's a real dangerous practice."

It may take a day to thaw frozen items, but it is safer and microwaves can speed-up that process, he adds.

Multiple re-freezing is also dangerous, he added.

"You do not defrost and re-freeze foods without going through a processing step before," says Colpitts.

"The way you could do it safely is to cook it, then you can freeze it."

Again, time spent in the danger zone means more bacteria. Freezing does not kill bacteria.

"Refrigeration doesn't stop bacterial growth either, it inhibits, it slows it down dramatically," notes Colpitts.

Finally, there's the cooking temperatures, 74 degrees Celsius.

"These foods should be cooked thoroughly,"

Pinkish hamburgers or chicken are very dangerous, he says.

He advises people to slice through their meats to check for pink and red colours, along with blood and juices.

For larger items a probe thermometer should be used.

For some meats a good practice to get into is to pre-cook the meat with a microwave or by boiling it, allowing even cooking without burning the outside when grilled on the barbecue afterwards.

"If you order a piece of chicken or hamburger and it looks like it's undercooked, send it back and let them know," says Colpitts.

Although most people avoid wasting food, it may be better to discard when in doubt.

"It may be in your self-interest to avoid something that you're not really sure (the food's) been handled the way that we're talking about here."