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Nothing beats the aroma of food on the grill and eating outdoors.

With plenty of graduation parties and backyard barbecues on the horizon, public health officials say that a little prevention can keep unsafe food from spoiling the fun.

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"In terms of safe food handling, probably the number one that comes up is hand washing," said Dave Vosburgh, a registered sanitarian with Goodhue County Public Health.

"When preparing, try to limit bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food like cheese and vegetables that isn't going to be heated up to potentially kill bacteria," Vosburgh said.

Raw meats and ready-to-eat foods should be kept separate to avoid cross-contamination. When grilling, use a separate plate for the raw and cooked meat, Vosburgh said.

Fruits and veggies should be washed. Rinses that are safe for consumption can be used on items typically eaten with the skin on. Otherwise, soap and water can be used on items like melons, Vosburgh said.

Beyond cross-contamination, temperatures are a concern, Vosburgh said.

Cold foods should be kept at 41 degrees or colder, and "cooking raw meats is the biggest key," Vosburgh said. Depending on the type of meat, it should generally be cooked at 165 degrees or hotter and then held at 140 degrees or more.

"There are lower limits, depending on what type of meat it is: whole roast, ground meat or chicken," Vosburgh said.

Public health officials suggest preparing an ice bath to keep items like salads and cut fruit cold.

"It's a good idea to have one big ice bath -- you set it out and everything would be kept cold," he said.

Food serving tips

Food safety doesn't end once the food is prepared.

Much like eating at a buffet, people should use clean plates for each trip to the table. Public health officials also recommend having hand sanitizers available.

"Not only should the people preparing the food have clean hands, but when you walk through a line and keep touching the same utensils that other people have touched before you, before you eat you should use a hand sanitizer or wash your hands," Vosburgh said.

Vosburgh said people should make sure that potentially hazardous food like potato salad doesn't sit out more than three to four hours.

"And be sure that when you replenish it, you use new bowls and plates and don't put the new food in with the old food," he said.

"If it's been sitting out that long, it's got the potential to have started growing bacteria, and you don't want to contaminate the new food."

Beverages at outdoor events are typically stored in coolers with ice. Vosburgh said that's fine as long as the water is periodically drained.

"That prevents any accumulation of bacteria and viruses in there," he said. "Water can hold it because of the fact that when people reach in, their hands may not be clean.

"Typically, it will be a cold enough temperature that it's not going to create any issues, but it only takes 10 to 100 rotavirus particles to make someone sick, and you can have more than that in a square inch of skin," Vosburgh said.

Beyond the food, those in attendance should be aware of other outdoor elements.

"If setting up outdoors, make sure there's some kind of overhead protection, that way you don't have leaves falling in it, birds flying overhead," Vosburgh said.

"Watch for things if it's windy, so you don't have dust and dirt, random things blowing into the food."

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