Ahh, summer. It’s the perfect time to relax outdoors with friends and family, enjoy the sunshine, and light up the grill. With COVID restrictions lifting, more people are starting to entertain again. However, with food poisoning more prevalent in the summer, based on USDA data, a big concern is food and grill safety.
From proper food temps and food handling techniques to grill cleaning safety, here are the top summer safety tips. And, we’ve included a few expert grill tips so you can satisfy your hungry crowd (without sending anyone to the ER).
Stop Harmful Bacteria
Bacteria growth is a major culprit with food prep. Hence, ensuring correct food temps can keep everyone safe. A rule of thumb is that hot foods need to stay hot and cold foods (perishables) need to stay cold. Bacteria grows when foods are between 40-140-degrees. Hence, it’s imperative to follow the instructions in your recipes as bacteria can start to grow in about two hours.
Here are a few helpful tips:
Food Prep for the Grill
- Keep mayonnaise, eggs, coleslaw, dips, dairy, potato salad, tuna salad, pasta salad, deli meat, seafood, and chicken cold, i.e., in a cooler with ice, or in the refrigerator at all times. If you buy prepared sandwiches, keep them refrigerated or on ice in a cooler before serving.
- If you only have one cooler, keep all meats and seafood at the bottom (to avoid them dripping/cross-contaminating your other foods). Keep additional foods stored in airtight containers.
- Prepare dishes like salads first, and save chicken for last. Raw chicken has bacteria on it that can get in the sink and on utensils.
- Refill ice in your cooler if you’re outdoors, and keep it out of the sun so it stays cold.
- Wash all fruit and vegetables before serving them.
- Ask guests to wash their hands after handling pets, eating, and using the restroom. Thorough hand-washing is better than antibacterial wipes, which aren’t the most effective for killing various foodborne pathogens. Hence, wash your hands vigorously for 20-seconds with soap and warm water.
- Wipe down counters before preparing dishes.
- Keep bottled water and drinks on ice and in a separate cooler from your meats and grills. Guests will go in a drink cooler frequently. Styrofoam coolers only run a few dollars and having a separate cooler will help keep your meats and other perishables cold.
- Keep extra water on ice for guests and pets to stay hydrated.
- Have a place in the shade away from the sun for guests and pets to avoid heatstroke and sunburn.
- When cooking meats, use USDA-recommended food temperatures: chicken (165-degrees F/74-degrees C), pork, beef, lamb, veal (145-degrees F/63-degrees C), beef (160-degrees F/71-degrees C).
- To prevent undercooked meats buy a meat thermometer and insert it into the thickest section of meat for an accurate temperature. With burgers, insert the meat thermometer all the way through. After use, clean your thermometer with soapy water.
- Tender cuts and lean meats cook more evenly. These include lamb, pork, chicken breast, strip steaks, fillets, and seafood like scallops, shrimp, fish, and salmon.
- Thaw out your meat in the refrigerator to avoid uneven cooking. Never put raw chicken in the refrigerator or cooler with cooked chicken.
- Avoid cross-contamination with your utensils, cutting boards, and plates. When turning meat on the grill, never use the same utensils or food trays / serving dishes for raw meat that you do for cooked items (meats, veggies).
- If you are outdoors cooking raw chicken on the grill, store it in its own cooler on ice, and away from other open foods.
- Serve cooked meat hot and refrigerate cooked meat that’s not immediately eaten after it comes off the grill.
- Avoid using the same marinades and sauces for cooked and raw meats. Never marinade meats at room temperature as bacteria can set in.
Cleaning and Using Grills
- Only light and use your grill when it is a safe distance from other structures (tree branches, hanging plants). With portable grills, ensure they are stable and will not topple over. With charcoal grills, only use charcoal starter fluid, and do not add other flammable liquids to make the fire higher. When your flame goes out, wait five minutes before you restart it.
- Avoid using metal/wire grill bristle cleaners which can get stuck in the grill gates. The tiny metal particles can get lodged in someone’s throat and represent a choking hazard. They can also get into the stomach or gums and cause severe pain.
- Alternative grill cleaners include the blade side of a grill cleaner, a nylon brush, raw onion, newspaper, aluminum foil, or grill spray.
- Never let kids or pets run or play near a grill, and always stay near it if it is lit. Grills stay hot to the touch for about an hour after you use them.
- Do not wear flammable clothing or insect repellent near a lit grill. Don’t let apron strings, sleeves, or your hair hang over the grill.
- Keep baking soda or a fire extinguisher nearby if a grease fire starts. NEVER use water on a grease fire.
- Clean any fat buildup or grease on your grill. Use a splatter mat to protect your patio or deck. If it is a charcoal grill, ensure the embers are out/completely cool before discarding them. With propane grills, check for leaks before use. It shouldn’t smell like gas, and a soapy water solution shouldn’t bubble up if you apply it to the hose and turn the gas on.
Food prep precautions can help prevent foodborne illnesses. From your backyard BBQs to the beach or that glamping vacay, use the grill tips above to keep everyone safe so you can enjoy cooking outdoors all summer long.
If you’re on the quest to beat the heat, you might enjoy this story that’ll convince you why you need to drink a bit of Riesling this summer