Adhering to food safety guidelines is one of the greatest responsibilities we have as pitmasters. It's important to make every effort to smoke meats that are safe for your family and loved ones.
This is especially important for us since smoker cooking is done at lower temperatures for a longer time. We all must be concerned of the safety of the food we smoke.
The safety danger zone lies between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Bacteria can multiply rapidly within the danger zone, so it's important that food is in this temperature range as short a time as possible.
Food handling safety is such an important subject, I will defer, and allow the USDA-FSIS, or United Stated Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service to take over. The following links provide proper food safety guidelines that will help you to smoke foods confidently and safely.
USDA Fact Sheet: Smoking Meat and Poultry
This link will take you to the USDA "Smoking Meats and Poultry" page. Defrosting meat, marinating, food preparation safety, using a smoker, using thermometers, and more are covered in this smoker cooking specific page. That's why this one is at the top of the list!
Barbecue and Food Safety
Barbecue and Food Safety is the title of this USDA page. It covers cooking, reheating, proper food safety, pit roasting, and food safety and hygiene. This is an excellent place to find tips for cooking safely.
Cooking for Groups
This USDA link will open a page entitled "Cooking for Groups". It deals with food handling safety for large groups, which is what us smokers do! It has a food temperature chart so you’ll know when it's done. It also has a food storage safety information and a shelf stable chart, so you know how long foods will keep refrigerated or frozen.
Food Safety Education
Finally, this is the Food and Safety Education Page of the USDA. Here you can find all sorts of good information about handling food safely. Ask your food handling safety questions here.