The Best Summertime Grilling and Picnic Safety Tips
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The summer grilling season is now in full swing, with many of us firing up the grill for a tasty meal. But grilling can be dangerous if you don’t take precautions! This blog post will offer grilling tips to ensure your meals are safe and delicious. In addition, we’ll also cover some picnic safety tips to make sure that everyone has an enjoyable time at the park.
Reduce the risk of food-borne illness and even cancer by following these simple food storage and food preparation safety guidelines at your next barbecue or picnic.
Summertime Grilling and Picnic Safety Tips
Warm weather brings out the backyard chefs and the smell of delicious food on the grill — or picnics in the park. But foodborne illness can ruin a truly great cookout or picnic worse than a rainstorm in the forecast. And some studies indicate that grilling meat the wrong way raises your risk of cancer. How do you make sure you’re grilling or picnicking safely?
Summertime Bacteria Concerns
Food-borne illness is very common in the summer because bacteria multiply rapidly when food is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. And there are other factors that contribute to summertime food poisoning, such as the mistaken belief that grilling will kill off the bacteria.
Avoid grilling food at high temperatures if you’re serving it immediately. When grilling, use indirect heat and cook the meat for a short period of time on each side — no more than three minutes per side. The longer your grill is hot, the greater chance that bacteria will grow to unsafe levels. If you’re grilling burgers or chicken breasts, keep an eye out for pink juices seeping through the packaging; this means some parts are raw so they need to be cooked longer before eating.
And while it’s tempting to think grills can kill off any harmful bacteria clinging to raw meats, studies have shown otherwise:
- In one study published in Food Protection Trends about cross-contamination from handling uncooked foods outdoors, grilling chicken was associated with higher rates of Campylobacter jejuni than boiling or microwaving.
- In another study published in the Journal of Food Protection, researchers found that grills were not effective at killing salmonella and E. coli on raw poultry — just washing hands after handling uncooked meat is more effective for removing bacteria.
That’s why it’s important to prepare your food properly before grilling so you don’t end up making yourself sick when all you wanted was a delicious summertime dinner! And remember: always use clean tongs or utensils if serving cooked foods from the grill to prevent cross-contamination between “cooked” and “raw.”
Wearing grilling protection
Wear aprons, gloves, and long sleeves when handling raw meats so any bacteria doesn’t get on your clothes from being in contact with them too often. To protect yourself even more while grilling at home, use tongs to turn the meat instead of using a fork or spatula (which can cause punctures that will allow bacteria to sneak in).
Do not cross-contaminate grilling grates
Clean the grill grates before cooking, and use a new set of grates for raw meat. Do not place cooked meats on those same grills again — they may contain harmful bacteria from coming into contact with the uncooked food or grease drippings.
Keep your foods separate
Cook fruits and vegetables beforehand if you’re going to be eating them at the same time as any grilled meats, do not mix dishes together (such as salads) so that one contaminant doesn’t spoil everything else. Pack cold items such as pasta salad separately from hot ones like hamburgers — it’s better to have two coolers than one grilling.
Minimize the Risk of Food-borne Illnesses at Cookouts and Picnics by Planning
Safe cookouts and picnics start with planning, whether the meal is at home or away from home. But eating away from home takes a little more planning. The following cooler-packing tips and cleanup supplies help fight the spread of harmful bacteria:
- If grilling at a park or campsite, pack raw meat in the bottom of the cooler where it will stay colder.
- Thoroughly chill any foods cooked ahead of time, such as cold fried chicken — just because it’s cooked doesn’t mean bacteria won’t grow in it.
- Before cooking and/or eating, wash your hands or use antibacterial wipes on your hands.
- When grilling or eating a picnic at a park, take along garbage bags, baby wipes, or disinfecting wipes (or damp washcloths in plastic bags) and paper towels close at hand — keeping your work area clean also reduces the risk of harmful bacteria.
- Keep drinks in a separate cooler.
- Make sure coolers stay cool: keep them inside the car or place them in the shade instead of in direct sunlight.
- Pack condiments like ketchup, mustard, and mayo in small containers.
- Keep foods made with mayonnaise cold as much as possible — perhaps even stick them in the freezer for a while before packing them in the cooler.
Picnic Safety Tips
Use paper plates and plastic utensils when grilling at a park, rather than using dishes that can’t get cleaned in time to prevent the spread of bacteria from dirty dishware — you may need as many as 50 sets for 100 people.
Wipe up spills immediately
Grease leaves an invisible film which is especially bad for children who are more prone to eating anything on their hands or face before they realize it’s not food. Grease spatter also creates carcinogens (PAHs) purposely by heat above 300°F, so wipe it off ASAP with dry cloth or newspaper after grilling (if possible).
Keep grills clean
Before grilling, scrub the grates with a wire brush to remove any bits of food left behind from previous cooking. This is especially important if you are using a grill that stays in the park.
Use biodegradable items when possible so they don’t create waste in the environment — paper plates are a great alternative to plastic disposable ones (or even packing more dishes) which can take decades to decompose. Keep any reusable utensils separate from those you may need later on as well: it’s better to have two coolers than one grilling if carrying hot foods like hamburgers that must be kept cold all day long until ready to eat.
General Safe Grilling Tips
When grilling, take out only what you will need immediately — don’t leave food out unnecessarily either before or after it is cooked.
- Never reuse marinades that have touched raw meat.
- Bring a fresh platter or clean foil pan to place cooked meat is — not the one you used to bring the raw meat out to the grill.
- A cooler can be used to keep foods hot — just line it with a towel and keep it closed.
- If you’re grilling, make sure meat is cooked properly before it’s served — otherwise, the risk of food poisoning may be increased.
Making Grilled Meat Safer to Eat: Reducing Carcinogens
The New York Times’ “Well Blog” documented the link between grilling and cancer-causing chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs (created when fat drippings from the meat start to burn), and heterocyclic amines, or HCAs (which result from chemical reactions in the meat). The longer your meat is on the grill and the hotter it becomes, the more carcinogens it will contain. So reduce the cancer-causing chemicals by:
- Microwaving the food a little first so it won’t need to be grilled as long.
- Using an oil-based marinade rather than water or vinegar for better flavor and less HCAs.
- Avoiding “well-done” meats – choose medium or rare or avoiding charring your meat — it’s not only bad for you but also can give food a bitter taste that no one likes as much.
- Keeping grilling time to a maximum of 20 minutes.
- Preferring grills with hoods, which reduce the number of carcinogens by up to 60%.
Food Storage after the Barbecue
Grilled food should be eaten or safely stored within an hour of cooking, and salads should be put away promptly after the meal – especially those with mayonnaise.
If grilling meat, store it in a refrigerator or cooler as soon as possible – within two hours of cooking.
Never leave food sitting out in the sun for more than an hour and never let raw meats touch cooked ones until you are ready to serve them at the barbecue – always keep foods that need refrigeration chilled when they’re not being served.
Store any leftover grilled meals safely:
Once cooled, place on paper towels to dry then wrap tightly with aluminum foil or cling film (plastic) and put into a container with a lid before storing in the fridge; – BBQ sauces should be stored separately from other leftovers because most have sugar which will attract bacteria. Keep containers closed between uses.
Summer grilling is a year-round American tradition, but it can also pose food safety risks if not done properly — even for the most experienced griller.
But by following some simple guidelines like using two coolers to keep hot foods cold until ready to serve; never reusing marinades that have touched raw meat or wiping up grease spills with paper towels before they set, grills will be safer than ever this summer.
It’s important to know these grilling basics so you’re able to enjoy your next outdoor BBQ without risking food poisoning!
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