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Four Food Safety Tips for the Fourth! How to Protect Your Family from a Surprising July 4th Danger

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Across the country, the Fourth of July celebration always centers on close friends and family and great food, usually from a barbeque. My family and I will be enjoying sun, sand and a cookout at the beach this year. As parents, my husband and I take great care near the ocean --carefully explaining the risks to our children and watching to make sure that their fun doesn't end in injury.

But, what about the risks surrounding the food we cook on the barbeque? There's a surprising danger there that many people simply don't think about -- food poisoning. Incidents of food-related illnesses spike in the summer months, just as we're sharing picnics and BBQs with our families.

Many people think the inside color of grilled burgers -- whether pink or brown -- indicates if they're safe to eat. This is a myth. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has shown that one out of every four hamburgers turns brown before it has reached a safe internal temperature. Using a thermometer is the only way to know if cooked meat is safe to consume. Yet new research, recently published by the Food and Drug Administration, shows that only 23 percent of those who own a food thermometer use it when cooking burgers.

I'm pretty sure being stuck sick at home -- or worse, the hospital -- is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind for celebrating our independence. Unfortunately this is a relatively common outcome. In fact, 128,000 people will require hospitalization this year because of foodborne illnesses according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

My husband, kids and I are going to be among the countless families grilling hamburgers tomorrow (it's estimated that consumers will spend $400 million on beef in preparation for the holiday), so we'll be following these simple steps to make sure our family remains safe from food poisoning:

o Clean: Make sure you clean all surfaces, utensils, and hands with soap and water.

o Separate: When grilling, use separate plates and utensils for raw meat and cooked meat and ready-to-eat foods (like raw vegetables) to avoid cross-contamination.

o Cook: Cook foods to the right temperature by using a food thermometer. That's the only way to know it's a safe temperature. Remember, burgers should be cooked to 160°F.

o Chill: Chill raw and prepared foods promptly if not consuming after cooking. You shouldn't leave food at room temperature for longer than two hours (or one hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90° F), so if you're away from home, make sure you bring a cooler to store those leftovers.

The USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services have been working with the Ad Council to promote our Food Safe Families campaign to help more people find out how they can help prevent food poisoning. For more tips, go to FoodSafety.gov and check out our 'Ask Karen' app, available in English (m.AskKaren.gov) and Spanish (m.PregunteleaKaren.gov), to get access to more than 1,300 answers to food safety questions.

"Ask Karen" and the Spanish-language "Pregúntele a Karen" will be answering food safety questions from the Twitter handles @USDAFoodSafety and @USDAFoodSafe_es on June 28 at 1 p.m. ET. Please join our chat if you have questions in advance of your Fourth of July party.

I wish you all a happy and healthy Fourth of July!

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