by Elaine Porterfield

Grill season is here. Are you prepared for a carefree cookout?

Everyone knows food tastes better outside, no question! But is it always safe? Not so much. Food poisoning spikes in the summer for a number of reasons, including ideal outdoor temperatures for bacterial growth. Burns are easy to come by if you’re not thinking about grill safety. By following a few simple practices, you can skip these problems in favor of safe and delicious grilling.

Ice, ice baby

If you’re hauling raw meat, fish or chicken to the park or beach to grill, your first job is to keep meats chilled and properly stored so there is no cross-contamination with other foods. Leaking, punctured packages, or meat and fish loosely wrapped in plastic or foil can contaminate any ice in your cooler. When people go to grab a beverage or slice of cheese, they shouldn’t stick their hands into a pool of meat juice. The exterior of intact meat packages can also come from the store preloaded with nasty germs. So place your proteins inside another, non-leaking, sealed container or in a plastic bag with a secure, zip-style closing before popping it in a cooler.

Remember to keep all your dips and salads chilling in a cooler until it’s time to eat. We’re looking at you guacamole and macaroni salad! Pop these tasty foods back in the cooler after everyone has been served.

Separation of chicken and steak

Your best bet is to use a small, separate cooler to carry your meat or fish, so it can stay cold and away from other food and ice. Some hand sanitizer will go far in keeping the grillmaster clean before and after handling any raw foods.

Now that you’ve safely transported your meat, it’s time to cook. You brought a meat thermometer to the cookout, right? Food thermometers are cheap, simple and indispensable for food safety. It only takes a moment to check that your food has reached a safe temperature to kill any harmful, lurking microbes. It might sound uptight, but trust us: it’s better to check the temperature than send yourself and others to the emergency room with E. coli or other food-related illnesses.

Meat expectations

On the plus side, checking temperatures will keep you from charring your burger into a burnt hockey puck. And as for the marinade - we know it’s your super special, prize-winning teriyaki, but toss it after the raw meat comes out of it. You’ll contaminate your food if you use the marinade again.

Once the food is off the grill, never put it on a plate or container that has held raw foods. It’s sometimes hard to keep in mind when you’re chilling and grilling with friends or family, but it’s crucial to use clean plates at cookouts. No one should get sick from salmonella because that perfectly grilled chicken was placed on the same plate that held it before cooking.

Watch those cutting boards! Don’t use the same one you used to cut meat or fish to hack up a melon or cut carrot sticks. It’s unlikely you can wash it sufficiently outside of a kitchen to make it safe to reuse.

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Hey, hot stuff - crucial grilling temperatures from the USDA

  • Beef, pork, lamb, veal, steaks, chops: an internal temperature of 145°F
  • Ground beef, pork, lamb and veal: an internal temperature of 160°F
  • Poultry: an internal temperature of 165°F

Burn-free grilling

The temptation is great to speed the charcoal briquettes along by squirting more lighter fluid on your coals after they’ve been burning for a bit. Don’t do it! You can still be the grillmaster of the party without becoming a human torch. And don’t try using gasoline to encourage your briquettes or fire — that never ends well. It sends people to the hospital every year after flames erupt. If you do burn yourself, be sure to run the wound under cool non-icy water immediately and cover with bacitracin and a bandage. If the injury worsens, it’s best to see a doctor.

That wasn’t too much to digest, was it? A few simple precautions will go a long way when it comes to summer food safety.

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