Food-safe grilling and picnicking

Food grilling safety tipsFor heat-tolerant Arizonans, and for those visiting slightly cooler destinations, summer is a time for picnics and cookouts. Unfortunately, it can also be a prime time for foodborne illness (“food poisoning”) to hit. Although warm summer temperatures may make humans feel sluggish, bacteria are undeterred. In fact, most harmful bacteria reproduce faster at temperatures of 90° to 100° F. That’s a good reason to be cautious, but there’s no need to give up al fresco dining. You can still have an enjoyable outing by following a few simple food safety guidelines:

Food Safety Basics: Clean,  Separate, Cook, Chill

  1. Clean your hands and anything that is going to touch the food – cutting boards, utensils, cookware and other surfaces. The best cleanser is soap and warm water. However, if they are not available, you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer on your hands. Wipe or rinse off any dirt or grease before applying the hand sanitizer, so it can work better. If you are heading outdoors, bring clean utensils and other items with you. Be sure to pack everything into clean coolers, baskets and bags.
  2. Separate raw meat, poultry, fish or eggs from ready-to-eat foods. Raw meat, etc., should be wrapped in its own container and carried in a separate cooler filled with ice. Once a raw item is cooked, do not put it back into the same container, which may still be contaminated with germs.
  3. Cook that raw meat, poultry, fish and eggs to a safe internal temperature. You cannot rely on color to tell you whether or not the food is safe. Use a food thermometer, and go to www.fightbac.org/cook-1 to find a chart of safe temperatures for various foods.
  4. Chill perishable food at 40° F or below until you are ready to cook or eat it. When transporting food, carry it in the air-conditioned section of the car, not in the trunk. If you are working with frozen foods, do not defrost them at room temperature. At the end of the meal, chill leftovers as soon as possible. It is normally recommended to put leftovers in the refrigerator within 2 hours. However, if the ambient temperature is above 90° F, you only have 1 hour to get them chilled. If you are picnicking or camping, it would be wise to discard the perishable leftovers rather than risk a foodborne illness.

Healthier Grilling

Cooking meat, poultry or fish at a high temperature – as in pan frying or direct grilling – can create carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds. There are steps you can take to minimize the amount of dangerous compounds in your food.

  1. Choose lean cuts of meat and poultry, and cut off visible fat before cooking. Another option is to choose fish or vegetables instead. Less fat produces fewer toxins.
  2. Marinate food before cooking it.
  3. Cook at a lower temperature. If using a gas grill, don’t set it on high. With conventional grills, use hardwood charcoal, which burns at a lower temperature than softer woods like mesquite. Flipping the food frequently will also keep the surface temperature cooler.
  4. Cook indirectly rather than setting food directly over the flame or coals.
  5. Do not eat charred food. Cajun food blackened with spices is not a problem. Food blackened by overcooking or burning is.

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