Janell Goodwin is a Technical Information Specialist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Did you know the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a Meat and Poultry Hotline? The experts who staff the hotline keep the public safe from foodborne illness by answering questions about all sorts of food safety topics. For people with cancer, avoiding foodborne illness is especially important.
I am one of those technical information specialists on the hotline, and the first question consumers usually ask is: “Are you a real person?!” The answer is “Yes!” The hotline has real, live people who single-handedly answer every food safety question. In fact, since the start of the hotline in 1985, more than 3 million calls from the public have been answered.
When it comes to questions, we’ve probably heard them all. Here are a few of the most popular questions answered during summer:
Q: I want to marinate my meat before I grill. I can just leave it on the counter while it’s marinating, right?
A: No, marinating should be done in the refrigerator for safety.
Q: Is it true that my hamburger is done when it turns mostly brown on the inside and the juices run clear?
A: Your burger is only safe when it has reached an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C) as measured by a food thermometer.
Q: I’m going to a park to grill and won’t have access to running water. What should I use to clean my hands and utensils?
A: Bring water and soap for preparation and cleaning. Or, pack cleaning wipes/moist towelettes.
Q: I’m going to a friend’s house for a barbeque. I want to bring something to grill there. Is it safe to partially cook meat or poultry to finish grilling later?
A: Never brown or partially cook meat or poultry with the intent of refrigerating it and finishing cooking it later. Any bacteria present in the meat would not have been destroyed.
Q: Is it OK to refrigerate or freeze leftover cooked hamburgers?
A: If the food is refrigerated promptly after cooking, it can be safely refrigerated or frozen. This means within 2 hours after cooking, or within 1 hour if the temperature outside is above 90°F (32.2°C).
If you have food storage questions, download the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) FoodKeeper app, which offers food storage guidance for more than 400 food and beverage items. It can give you peace of mind knowing you stored and served your dish safely.
Need more food safety information? Call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHOTLINE (1-888-674-6854) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also chat live with a USDA food safety specialist at AskUSDA, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.