We often talk about the health of foods in terms of their nutrient content and how their nutrients and phytochemicals can prevent diseases and help manage your weight. But you might often forget about the importance of food safety as necessary precautions that should be taken to keep you in good health.

This summer, as you host your weekend barbecues, keep in mind that even some of the healthiest foods could cause you and your guests illness if proper food safety isn't followed, especially when working with raw meat and fresh produce.

Here are some important tips to keep in mind so you, your family and your friends can best enjoy the healthy foods you love:

At the Store:

• When you're food shopping, pick up refrigerated foods right before checking out.

• When placing meats in your cart, separate raw meat and poultry from other foods.

• Place every package of raw meat and poultry into plastic bags to prevent the juices from contaminating other foods.

• Drive directly home from the store to ensure that the foods aren't kept from refrigeration for too long. If the trip home will involve several stops, bring a cooler with ice to help keep the meats and refrigerated items cold.

At Home:

• Place all meats in the refrigerator immediately.

• Freeze meat and poultry that won't be used within 1 or 2 days. Freeze other meat within 4 to 5 days.

• Completely thaw all meats before they go on the grill to ensure thorough and even cooking.

• Practice safe thawing methods in the refrigerator or under cold running water. Never thaw frozen meat or poultry by letting it sit out on the counter top.

• Microwave foods only if they will immediately be placed on the grill.

When Marinating Meats for the Barbecue:

- Make sure you marinate meats in the refrigerator, not on the counter.

- Poultry and cubed or stewed meat can be marinated for up to 2 days.

- Beef, veal, pork, and lamb cuts may be marinated for up to 5 days.

- If saving marinade for later use, reserve a portion of the marinade before placing raw meat in it to prevent cross contamination from raw to cooked foods.

- If the marinade comes in contact with raw meat with intentions of being used on cooked foods as a sauce, bring the marinade to a boil first to destroy any harmful bacteria.

Transporting the Food:

• When carrying food to another location, make sure to keep it cold to minimize any bacterial growth.

• Use an insulated cooler with ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40° or lower.

• Pack food straight from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home.

• Pack perishables and non-perishables in separate coolers.

• Avoid opening the lid of the cooler too often, and keep it out of direct sunlight to keep the

temperature constant.

Cleanliness at the Grill:

• Be sure to have plenty of clean platters and utensils.

• Use separate platters and utensils for raw and cooked meats and poultry.

• If away from home, pack wet towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.

During Cooking:

• NEVER partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.

• Meat and poultry often brown very fast on the outside, and can be an inaccurate indicator of whether it is safe to eat. Use a food thermometer to be absolutely sure.

• Safe minimum temperatures:

  • Beef, veal, lamb cuts: 145°F (medium rare); 160°F (medium)
  • Hamburgers made from ground beef: 160°F
  • Pork: 160°F
  • Poultry: 165°F
Reheating:

• When reheating fully cooked meats, grill to 165°F or until steaming hot.

Keeping Hot Food Hot:

• After foods are completely cooked, keep them hot until served, at 140°F or warmer. You can do this by keeping already grilled foods on the side of the grill to prevent them from overcooking. In the home, they can be kept in a 200°F oven, in a chafing dish, slow cooker, or warming tray.

Leftover Safety:

• Refrigerate any leftovers promptly in shallow containers to evenly cool the food.

• Discard all food left out for more than 2 hours (1 hour if in hot weather).

This may seem like a lot of rules to follow just to prepare for a family barbecue, but I promise it is worth taking the time to keep you and your family from getting foodborne illness. Make it easier for yourself by keeping all of the temperatures pinned somewhere visible in your kitchen, either on the fridge or on a bulletin board. In no time, all of these food safety tips will become a habit for you in the kitchen!

Bonnie R. Giller is a registered and certified dietitian nutritionist and certified intuitive eating counselor who helps chronic dieters break free of the pain of dieting and get the healthy body they love. She has multiple degrees in clinical nutrition, a certification as a certified diabetes educator and she works with people who are struggling with dieting or health conditions like diabetes take back control so they can get a healthy body and live their lives symptom free.

Bonnie utilizes the principles of intuitive eating in her work with her clients, which is eating based on internal signals of hunger and satiety versus situations or emotions. The result is they lose weight, keep it off without dieting and live a healthy life of guilt-free eating.

Bonnie is the author of 2 cookbooks and is now working on her third cookbook. She is also the author of an e-book called "5 Steps to a Body You Love Without Dieting" which you can download free at http://www.DietFreeZone.com

For more information on Bonnie's programs, books, lectures and presentations, visit http://www.brghealth.com

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