Are you planning a cookout or family picnic for this weekend or a summer holiday? You probably heard the same data I did that almost 75% of us grill out on Memorial Day and up to 90% on 4th of July. Of course the survey was done by Weber-Stephen Products, so they love for us to grill out. A plus of grilling foods as it heats up outside, is that using a grill instead of your oven will help keep your home cooler and save on energy costs. Unfortunately with these cooked out foods we often also see an increase in food borne illnesses, so basic food safety practices are an important part of any cookout. Some of these food safety grilling guidelines include:
- Wash hands thoroughly before, during, and after food prep – especially after touching raw meats or hot dogs.
- Start with a clean grill; make sure you remove any charred food debris from the last time you cooked out.
- Check the expiration date on any meat product, especially hot dogs or brat type meats, to ensure you are starting with a safe product.
- Grill completely thawed meats to ensure even cooking.
- If you are using a marinade on grilled meats, never use the marinade that has raw meat drippings in it on top of partially or fully cooked meats. Either save some of the mixture before adding meat to it, or make a new batch to add during grilling.
- Use a food thermometer to make sure meat is completely cooked – ground meats like burgers should reach 160 degrees, poultry 165 degrees, and pork or beef 145 degrees.
- Place cooked meats on a fresh platter, rather than the one you brought it out to the grill with.
- Remember the old saying “Keep Cold Foods Cold, and Hot Foods Hot”, if it is over 90 degrees foods shouldn’t be left out for more than an hour – rather than the typical 2 hours.
- If you are transporting foods to your cookout, ensure proper storage with coolers or warmers for already cooked foods.
In addition to safely preparing grilled foods, it is also a good idea to keep in mind the research on grilled meats and cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research char grilled foods and those that are high fat have been shown to produce the cancer causing compounds heterocyclic amines or HCAs, and PAHs or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Meats cooked at high temperatures, especially those that are charred, have been linked to high levels of HCAs. The PAHs are formed from the fat of grilled meats flaming up, so by selecting lower fat cuts of meat, you can reduce this risk. Marinating meat has been shown to reduce the risk of HCAs forming by over 90% – even marinating for less than 30 minutes. If you are planning to marinade your meats or vegetables before you grill consider your recipe before you start. While grilled foods are often more healthful than fried, marinades frequently contain ingredients that are high in sodium. Check the label on commercially prepared grilling or barbecue sauces for hidden sodium or fat. To make your own, add herbs and a drop of olive oil to fruit juices and toss in a little balsamic vinegar. Try the following: lemon or lime juice, low-sodium soy sauce, honey, garlic, vinegar, wines, mixed with your favorite herb. Fruit or vegetable salsa is also a tasty and easy choice as a marinade. You may want to grill your vegetables in addition to meats, good choices are: peppers, zucchini, onions, mushrooms, potatoes, asparagus, eggplant, corn on the cob, tomatoes, and summer squash. Beets, carrots, and even radishes can be grilled too.
To grill safe choose vegetables or low-fat meat cuts that you marinade with juice and herbs and slow cook to prevent flare ups; use the proper grill tools; wash your hands and utensils; keep a water bottle handy to prevent flare ups; use a meat thermometer; and “Keep Hot Foods Hot, and Cold Foods Cold”. The University of Illinois Extension has a few easy grilling recipes for vegetable kabob, roasted corn, and banana boats at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/grilling/recipes.html.
American Institute for Cancer Research, AICR: http://www.aicr.org.
USDA, Food Safety & Inspection Service: http://www.foodsafety.gov/.
University of Illinois Extension, Carol Schlitt, “Keep Food Safe When Grilling” and Marjorie LaFont, “Outdoor Grilling Recipes”: http://urbanext.illinois.edu/.
WebMD, A Healthier Way to Grill: http://webmd.com.
Weber-Stephen Products: http://weber.mediaroom.com/.
Written by: Lisa Barlage, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Ross & Vinton Counties.