Cooking over an open flame produces a unique flavor that’s difficult to match. The smoky flavor of grilled foods is hard to resist, especially on summer nights that seem tailor-made for cooking and dining outside.
Cooking over a flame comes with certain safety risks, and those risks are easily mitigated with some simple strategies. It’s equally important that grilling enthusiasts make an effort to reduce the risk of food poisoning when grilling. Dishes used to cook indoors are routinely scrubbed clean after a good meal, but grills rarely garner the same level of post-meal attention, which can increase the risk for food poisoning. And a less-than-spotless grill grate isn’t the only food poisoning risk linked with grilling. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer these tips to avoid food poisoning when grilling in the months ahead.
Separate raw foods before grilling. Cross-contamination can contribute to food poisoning. The CDC suggests efforts to prevent cross-contamination should begin at the grocery store. Foods should be kept separate in grocery carts and bags, and packages of raw meat and poultry should be kept in their own individual bags.
Keep foods cool at all times. The CDC recommends picking up meat, poultry and seafood right before checking out so the food remains as cool as possible at all times. If it’s a long drive from the store to home, which can be the case when grilling foods that must be purchased at specialty stores or fisheries instead of traditional neighborhood grocery stores, shoppers can place items in insulated coolers and keep them at 40 F or below. All raw meat, poultry or seafood should be refrigerated until cooks are ready to place it on a grill.
Thaw foods safely. The CDC notes that foods should never be thawed on a counter, even if they’re in a pot or bowl of lukewarm water. Foods should be thawed in a refrigerator or by utilizing the defrost function on a microwave.
Marinate safely. Like thawing, marinating should always be done in a refrigerator, regardless of which type of marinade is being used. When marinating foods are ready for cooking, discard the marinade and clean the dish immediately to avoid contamination.
Routinely clean hands when handling raw meat, poultry and seafood. Cooks should wash their hands thoroughly after handling raw meat, poultry or seafood. Wet hands, lather them with soap and then scrub for at least 20 seconds. Make sure hands are dried on a clean towel, and repeat this process any time raw meat is touched.
Clean the grill thoroughly. A grill should be given a thorough cleaning before each use. The CDC urges individuals using a wire bristle brush to thoroughly inspect the grilling surface before lighting a flame and cooking. Wire bristles can be dislodged during cleaning, and then end up on food, where they can pose a significant health hazard once foods are eaten.
Always place cooked foods on clean dishes. Cooked foods should never be placed back on the dishes or in the containers where they were stored prior to being cooked. Doing so can lead to food poisoning and illness.
Cook foods to the appropriate temperature. Foods require different cooking temperatures, and cooks are encouraged to determine those temperatures for each food they grill. Utilize a meat thermometer to ensure foods are cooked hot enough to kill germs.