With news stories about food contamination and harmful chemicals appearing almost weekly, it is not surprising that many would-be chefs are taking food preparation more seriously, particularly food safety: Grilling, in fact, is one area of food preparation that needs particular scrutiny.
Is Grilling Safe?
Grilling gets a bad reputation because more people are likely to feel ill after a summer barbeque than after an indoor meal. In reality, however, many cases of food poisoning and upset stomachs are not caused by grilling at all, but may be the result of overindulgence at a picnic, spoiled diary products such as mayonnaise in potato salad, or overexertion (hiking, flag football, etc.) too soon after a meal. Yet with proper preparation and attention to hygiene, grilling is a safe and delicious way to cook meats and vegetables.
Tips for Food Safety: Grilling
Proper food safety has many steps, from buying the food to disposing of leftovers.
Safely grilled food begins with safe grocery shopping. When buying food for the grill, remember these safety tips:
- Buy meats last so they are out of refrigeration for the shortest period of time.
- If possible, buy meats that are still frozen.
- Place meats in a plastic grocery bag away from other foods so juice does not drip on other items.
- If necessary, transport food home in a cooler to keep it cold.
- Freeze meat immediately if it will not be used within one or two days.
Getting Ready for the Grill
Before firing up the grill, food must be properly prepared so it can be safely cooked.
- Thaw meats completely before grilling so they will cook more evenly.
- Never thaw meat on the counter – thaw in the refrigerator or in a sink of cool water.
- If using a marinade, reserve some for basting or flavoring instead of reusing the sauce that has been in contact with the raw meat. If a marinade must be reused, boil it first to kill any bacteria.
- Consider precooking meats by boiling or microwaving to lower the amount of grilling time and ensure doneness.
- Wash vegetables to be grilled thoroughly before cooking.
- If grilling at home, keep meats refrigerated until time to grill.
- If food needs to be transported to a park or campsite, store it in a cooler in the shade. Do not open the cooler frequently and do not store other foods or drinks in the same cooler.
- Use clean utensils and platters when handling food.
- Wash hands thoroughly before handling food or placing it on the grill.
On The Grill
While grilling, it is vital to follow certain precautions to ensure food safety: Grilling is more challenging than lighting a fire.
- Meat should reach a healthy internal temperature to be thoroughly cooked: poultry should reach 180 degrees, burgers 160 degrees, pork 160 degrees, and steaks 145 degrees for medium rare cuts and 160 degrees for medium cuts.
- Browning and char is not an accurate indicator of thorough cooking; use a meat thermometer to check for doneness.
- If grilling meat and vegetables on the same surface, use separate utensils to handle each type of food and do not allow meat drippings to fall onto vegetables.
- Use a clean platter for cooked meat; do not place it on the same platter that was used for raw cuts.
- Keep meat hot until served by moving it away from the fire but keeping it on the heated grill.
Proper grilling safety should also include serving precautions to ensure that cooked food does not accidentally become contaminated before it is eaten.
- Wash hands thoroughly before eating or handling food; if restrooms are not available, use anti-bacterial gels or wipes.
- Discard burned or charred portions before eating; several studies have indicated that soot from char may contain carcinogens and other dangerous chemicals.
- Cover food on the table to prevent flies or other insects from enjoying a free meal and spreading germs.
- Do not use insect repellents or other harsh chemicals near food, and choose a table away from restrooms or other insect-attracting locations.
Grilling safety precautions should not end when the meal is over. Leftovers need to be treated carefully to ensure they are still safe.
- Try to gauge portions properly to avoid leftovers if possible.
- Store leftovers in the cooler immediately and refrigerate as soon as possible.
- Food left out for more than two hours should be discarded.
- Leftovers must be reheated to safe internal temperatures before being eaten.
More Grill Safety
There is more to grilling safety than just safe, thoroughly cooked food. Both charcoal and propane grills can be dangerous if used improperly, and even delicious food can be unappetizing after a grill accident. To prevent problems:
- Use proper grilling equipment and fuel.
- Keep children away from the grill area.
- Do not leave the grill unattended.
- Trim excess fat from meats to prevent flare-ups from drippings.
- Use barbeque utensils and heat-resistant mitts to protect hands.
- Only use a grill in a well ventilated, open area.
- Keep a fire extinguisher nearby while grilling.
The majority of food bacteria grows between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and keeping food at proper hot or cold temperatures is critical for food safety: grilling can also be dangerous, however, if the food is not handled appropriately. From the grocery store the leftover storage container, following proper grilling safety tips can help make summer barbeques a tasty tradition without fear of accidents or illnesses.