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This 4th of July grills across America will be fired up for cookouts. Here are some tips to keep cookouts from being sickouts. Gary Crawford has more.


The USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline number is 888-MPHOTLINE (888-674-6854) or can also go online to

PARTICIPANTS: Gary Crawford and Meredith Carothers, food safety expert with USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline.


(upbeat music)

Oh yes, it is coming.

And those outdoor grills are going to be put to good use.

But while many 4th of July celebrations will end with fireworks, yes, some of them will end with people getting sick from food poisoning.

It can be as simple as just kind of a tummy cramps and going to the bathroom, but it could also be as severe as causing death.

And that's what's really scary.

That's Meredith Carruthers, food safety expert with the agriculture department's meat and poultry hotline, the number of which we'll give you in a minute.

She says one of the big mistakes that we make when grilling meats and poultry is not using a meat thermometer to make sure the food is cooked to a high enough internal temperature to kill any bacteria that might be in or on that food.

Grilling kind of adds a coloring to the outside of a food product.

It makes it look done a lot of times way before it actually is fully done.

And that really makes food thermometers super important.

Because you cannot tell if something's done by just eyeballing it.

Next, she says even when you're cooking outside, try to wash your hands as often as you can.

Biggest key time though is gonna be after you've touched raw meat and poultry, just because those bacteria can spread to other places and then you can't see them and you can't smell them.

So you have no idea where they went and where they got distributed to.

And some bacteria can live and multiply on surfaces like your countertops, dishes, cell phones for as long as 72 hours.

Next, Meredith says one of the biggest mistakes we make, especially on the 4th of July, is leaving cooked meat and other perishable foods out too long without cooling down, refrigeration of some kind.

Normally we say to follow a two hour rule.

So two hours from when it comes off the grill, 'cause that's a timeframe where bacteria can then reach dangerous levels.

And ultimately then if they reach those dangerous levels, they may not be able to be killed by reheating or cooking.

So then you're kind of stuck with them.

And Meredith says if it's over 90 degrees where you are, then it's only safe to leave food out for one hour.

Now, I can hear it now.

Some of us are saying I've always just eyeballed meat on the grill to see if it's done, always left the food out longer than two hours.

I didn't even wash my hands.

Nothing has ever happened to me.

Sure, that's true.

It's not a guarantee that you're gonna get sick every single time that you do something risky.

But every time you get in a car, it's a risk that you could get in a car accident, but it's not gonna happen every single time.

But the one time that it does happen, it could be quite bad.

And she speaks from experience on that.

If you have questions about cookout safety or any food safety question, call the experts at the Meat and Poultry Hotline, the number 1-888-MP-HOTLINE, 1-888-MP-HOTLINE.

Or you can do some live chat with the experts at

♪ It's a fallin' July ♪

And have a great and safe holiday.

Gary Crawford for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.