On behalf of Gov. Tom Ridge, state Agriculture Secretary Samuel E. Hayes Jr. today urged Pennsylvanians to think "Food Safety First" as they prepare for the summer cookout season.

"We want everyone to think 'Food Safety First' when enjoying their summer cookouts," Hayes said. "Pennsylvania farmers work hard to produce wholesome and nutritious food for consumers. As people handle and prepare summer favorites, it is up to everyone to make sure that harmful bacteria does not have a chance to develop during the process. Summer cookouts should be fun for everyone!"

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Food Safety, storing food at the proper temperature plays a critical role in food safety. Keeping cold food cold or hot food hot is very important. From the time food leaves the market until it remains as leftovers at the end of a meal, proper care is critical.

With outside temperatures on the rise, foods can quickly reach what is known as the "temperature danger zone." Between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria quickly multiply, increasing the chances for food-related illnesses. To prevent this from occurring, cold foods should be maintained at an internal temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and hot foods above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This means a refrigerator should maintain a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.

STORING TIPS:
  • Do not overfill the refrigerator -- cold air needs to circulate freely to keep foods cold. This also will prevent the refrigerator from overrunning;

  • Food should not be at room temperature for longer than two hours. Do not let leftovers sit on a counter to cool before being stored in the refrigerator (The two-hour guideline starts when you begin preparing the food); and

  • Divide leftovers into small, shallow containers to help foods cool quickly.
SHOPPING TIPS:
  • Display cases for raw and cooked foods should always be cold. Foods that are marked "Keep Refrigerated" should be cold to the touch. Frozen foods should be frozen solid;

  • When grocery shopping, select refrigerated and frozen-food items last. Once again, remember that in either case, cold and hot foods should not be allowed to sit at room temperature for longer than two hours; and
  • When taking a long trip or when running errands after food shopping, place a cooler filled with ice in the car for transporting cold and frozen-food items safely. Once home, refrigerate foods immediately and leave them in their original packages.
COOKING TIPS:
  • Always cook hamburgers until they are well done -- 160 degrees Fahrenheit internally;

  • Always heat hotdogs thoroughly -- 165 degrees Fahrenheit internally; and

  • Food thermometers are very useful. They help ensure that food is cooked to a safe temperature, prevent overcooking, and take the guesswork out of preparing a safe meal.
Hayes noted that the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Food Safety safeguards Pennsylvania's food supply by promoting safe food handling through regulatory programs, public outreach and educational services.

To learn more about how to think 'Food Safety First," visit the Department of Agriculture homepage, which can be accessed through the Pennsylvania homepage, www.state.pa.us, or directly at www.pda.state.pa.us, or contact the Bureau of Food Safety and Laboratory Services at 717-787-4315.

CONTACT: Jon M. Casey of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, 717-787-5085.