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Safe grilling for the summer

Tips to keep what you eat safe in the warm summer heat
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Now that summer has unofficially arrived, you may be planning to break out the barbeque. But as the heat rises, so do the risks of the food we eat. Leslie Bonci is a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and she shares some advice on how to keep your summer grilling safe. Read her tips below.


When grilling outside, the first thing to do is make sure the grill is clean. Use hot soapy water to clean it before you start cooking. You should keep a soap and water solution (water alone won’t clean it) in a spray bottle and paper towels by the grill.

There is no particular order to cooking on the grill. For instance, if you cook the chicken first, it’s OK to cook vegetables after the chicken. The grill is already hot once you put the chicken down, so it may leave some stuff behind, but it’s not a health issue for it to get on the vegetables or whatever else you grill.

RAW MEATS CONTAMINATE Use color-coded plates — one for raw meats and one for cooked meats and foods. Use two sets of utensils or be sure to clean them thoroughly with hot soapy water after contact with raw meats. Do not use utensils that were used on raw foods for cooked products.

Keep a package of moist towelettes by the grill to clean your hands after you touch raw meat. Make sure your hands are clean before you touch any cooked product.

If you want to re-use a marinade that has been used on raw meat, boil it for several minutes first. Do not use a marinade for raw meats on cooked meat.


Bacteria can multiply when food gets to room temperature and could make you ill (food poisoning or stomach problems), so it’s very important to keep hot food hot and cold food cold.

First off, defrost meat, poultry and fish in the refrigerator before grilling. When it’s warmer, a lot of people will take the frozen product out and let it defrost on the counter, but you don’t want it to get to room temperature.

Usually at a picnic the weather is warm, so people will be going in and out of the cooler to get a drink. Put beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another because when people are going in and out to get drinks they keep changing the temperature in the cooler, which is not good for the perishable foods.

If storing meat in a cooler, only take out what will fit on the grill and leave the rest in the cooler until you’re ready to cook it.

To keep grilled meats hot, set them to the side of the grill, a 200-degree oven, or on a warming tray to keep them warm. Do not go ahead and set them out on the table where it can cool off if you’re not planning on serving it right away. Again, you don’t want it to get to room temperature.

At picnics or outdoor food events (weddings, graduations), if you are preparing foods, make sure hot foods are kept hot and cold foods are kept cold, (on ice) and nothing is left out longer than one hour if it is hotter than 90 degrees.

TRAVELING When traveling with cold food, pack it in plenty of ice in a well-insulated cooler and keep a refrigerator thermometer inside the cooler. Keep the cooler in the air-conditioned part of the car and not the trunk. Again, separate beverages in one cooler and perishable foods in another.


If you are eating at an outdoor restaurant that is buffet style, check to make sure the cold foods are on ice and the hot foods are in a heated chafing dish or on warming trays. Again, you’re trying to avoid your meat getting to room temperature and when you’re in hot temperatures, that happens more quickly.

If you order any kind of meat or meat-containing food at a restaurant and are going to bring the leftovers home, make sure you reheat the food to 165 degrees.

If you’re going to be out longer than two hours and cannot refrigerate your leftovers, don’t take them with you.

HCA’S When meats cook (including poultry and fish), substances called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form inside the meat. The longer the cooking time and the higher the temperature, the more are formed. This is something you want to avoid because they may be carcinogens. These are note necessarily going to give you cancer, but they can be harmful to the cells.

You can almost eliminate this problem by marinating meat even briefly before cooking (10-15 minutes). This will reduce the amount of HCAs formed by 96 percent. Choose oil free marinades with an acid base (citrus juice, vinegar).

Marinate meat in the refrigerator, but no longer than 24 hours or it will change the texture of your product, making it mushy and unpleasant.

HYDROCARBONS The burned or charred parts of the meat are also a health risk. Grilling creates substances called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are carcinogenic. This is caused when fat from the food drips on the coals, causing smoke to deposit on the food, creating the charred, black part. If you do have burnt or charred parts of meat, cut them away before eating. (This pertains to meat, poultry, or to a lesser extent, fish — any protein containing foods. This does not apply to vegetables.)

To lower the risk of hydrocarbons, you should:

-Flip meats with tongs instead of a fork, which can pierce the meat and cause fat to drip on the coals.

-Trim all fats from meat.

-Choose leaner cuts.

-Use a pan to catch the drips.

-Don’t use an oily marinade.

-Limit meat’s contact with smoke by raising the grill higher, or place food in a foil packet or line the grill pan or rack with foil and poke holes through the foil to prevent smoke from coming back onto the food.

-Don’t place meat directly over the coals.

-Keep a spray water bottle for flare-ups.

To reduce HCAs (inside) and hydrocarbons (outside), you should pre-cook large cuts of meat or poultry in the oven or microwave and then immediately finish cooking on the grill for at least 30 minutes. This will reduce grilling time, lessening the time for HCAs to form and lessening the chances that your meat will be raw on the inside and charred on the outside. But don’t partially grill meat and then finish cooking it later.

USE A MEAT THERMOMETER Even if you think you’re the master griller, you should always check for doneness with a meat thermometer. The thermometer will be marked with what temperature is recommended. Temperatures:

-Chicken breasts — 170 degrees in the thickest part

-Hamburger patties — 160 degrees. Insert thermometer through the side.

-Steaks — 145 degrees (medium rare). Insert thermometer in the top.

-Hot dogs — 165 degrees or steaming.

-Grilling times:

-Chicken breasts — 6-8 minutes per side

-10-15 minutes per side with bone

-10-15 minutes per side legs/thigh

-8-12 minutes per side drumsticks

-Hamburger patties — 3 minutes per side (1/2-inch thick)

-Steaks — 3-4 minutes per side medium rare (3/4-inch thick)

-4-5 minutes per side medium (3/4-inch thick)

-Kabobs — 3-4 minutes per side (1-inch cubes)

Leslie Bonci is a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.