Serving up safe food: Take steps to prevent foodborne illness while grilling (sponsored) |

Serving up safe food: Take steps to prevent foodborne illness while grilling (sponsored)

Mary Beth TeSelle
Special to The Union
Family having a barbecue party in their garden in summer
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

Whether it’s a backyard barbecue or a poolside picnic, chances are your summer plans include cooking and eating outdoors.

While grilling is a healthy way to prepare lean meats and vegetables, it can also pose a food safety risk.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year one in six Americans will get sick from contaminated foods or beverages. Roughly 3,000 people will die from foodborne illness.

While food safety is important year-round, summertime presents additional challenges.

“During the summer months, it’s more common to find people eating outdoors,” said Noel Slaughter, RD, director of nutrition services at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. “Anytime you have food sitting out in warm weather, it is at risk. Add to that the special challenges presented by grilling and you have what could be a recipe for foodborne illness.”

While grilling is a popular summertime cooking method, many people do not take the precautions necessary to ensure that the food they grill is cooked properly and safely.

“Grilling is not an exact science,” explained Slaughter. “Cooking times can vary by a lot, depending on the heat of the grill and the type and cut of meat. Getting meat to the right temperature isn’t as easy as following a recipe.”

Fortunately, the key to ensuring meat is cooked to the proper temperature is simple and cheap – use a meat thermometer (see inset for recommended temperatures). But according to the USDA, only 34 percent of Americans use a thermometer when cooking hamburgers on the grill.

“The best and only way to make sure bacteria have been killed and food is safe to eat is by cooking it to the correct internal temperature,” said Slaughter. “And the only way to test that is with a food thermometer.”

In addition to monitoring food temperature, there are other steps you should take to ensure food safety even before the meat hits the grill, Slaughter explained.

“First, meat needs to be kept contained and separate from other foods in the refrigerator. Check out the packaging on meat – if it is leaking or dripping, put it on a plate or in a bag. Clean up any spills thoroughly.”

If you use a marinade, do not reuse the same marinade as a sauce. Rather, reserve some marinade and keep it separate from the raw meat. And never allow meat to marinate at room temperature.

“Raw meat needs to stay cold (41 degrees or cooler) until it is cooked,” said Slaughter. “Do not leave meat to thaw on the kitchen counter or to sit in marinade at room temperature.”

The USDA recommends using ground meat within one or two days of purchase. Steaks, roasts and chops should be used within five days, unless the store label indicates sooner.

Pay attention to the cutting boards and utensils you use with raw meat. Never reuse a cutting board or plate that had raw meat on it without thoroughly washing with hot, soapy water. And don’t use the same utensils on raw and cooked foods.

Once the cooking and eating is over, don’t get too comfortable – your work isn’t done!

“When the temperature is over 90 degrees, it’s especially important to put leftover food in the refrigeration within an hour,” said Slaughter. “If you are at home, put the food in closed containers in the refrigerator or freezer. If you are at a picnic, be sure the ice in your cooler is still frozen before trusting it to keep your leftovers cold. Food needs to be kept at 41 degrees or below to prevent bacteria growth.”

Slaughter says by taking a few precautions, you can ensure that your family safely enjoys the fun and flavor associated with summertime grilling.

“Grilling is a great way to prepare healthy, flavorful food. By using lean meats with marinades that contain healthy oils, you can quickly and easily cook a nutritious main course without heating up your kitchen. Throw a few vegetables on the grill, too, and you have the makings of a tasty summertime dinner!”

All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.

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