What is it about warm weather that makes us want to turn up the heat by firing up the grill? Luckily, it’s easy for summer lovers to satiate our barbecue cravings with char-grilled fare that’s guilt-free. But is it safe?
With the heat of barbecue season comes the heightened risk of contracting a foodborne illness and ingesting dangerous chemicals — particularly whenever meat is on the menu. This summer, stay out of harm’s way by sidestepping these serious food safety sins:
Food Safety Sin Number 1: Cross-Contamination
The transfer of bacteria from one place (typically meat) to another (such as hands or eating utensils) is a common culprit of foodborne illness, but these simple precautions will help you minimize your risk:
Food Safety Sin Number 2: Eating Undercooked Meat
Can’t wait to eat that juicy burger just as soon as it turns brown? You’d better slow down! You can’t always rely on the color that you see to assess safety. To be absolutely sure that your meat is completely cooked inside and out, stick a thermometer into the thickest part of the meat and familiarize yourself with the USDA’s standard cooking temperatures:
Once the temperature is right, it’s safe to pile on the veggies; you should never stack vegetables top of meat before it’s thoroughly cooked.(Photo courtesy of Thinkstock/Hemera).
Food Safety Sin Number 3: Leaving Leftovers Out
Always remember this cardinal rule: Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. To do so, keep cooked food on the grill until it’s ready to be served, and keep cold foods on ice until they’re ready to be eaten. Cold foods should be kept at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit by using a block of ice, which stays cold longer than ice cubes. And since cold air travels downward, remember to put ice above — not just below — your foods and beverages.
Temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit are called the "temperature danger-zone" where bacteria can grow faster than you can blink an eye. The temperature of your food should never fall between these two numbers for more than two hours (or one hour if the air temperature is warmer than 90 degrees Fahrenheit). Refrigerate any leftovers promptly and in shallow containers, which expedites rapid, even cooling. If you are ever in doubt, throw it out!
Food Safety Sin Number 4: Burning Food to a Chemical Crisp
That smoky, borderline-burnt flavor is what keeps our grills hot all summer long, but it is also what makes grilling unhealthy. On the spectrum of food safety, charred food sits opposite undercooked food but is just as scary when consumed: Burnt food can expose your body to chemicals and potential carcinogens thanks to two chemicals coming out of your grill and transferred into your food: polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, are chemicals deposited onto food via the smoke that forms when meat fat drips onto hot coals; heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, are the chemicals created when the molecular components of meat react with each other due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures on a gas or charcoal grill. This may sound scary, but there are a few tricks to keep these chemicals out of your mouth while keeping the grilled food in it:
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- Keri Glassman, Women's Health
This post was originally published on July 23, 2012