Barbecuing safely

February 24, 2012

Food

The statistics are scary, but backyard chefs can dramatically reduce the risk of food-borne illness by following simple BBQ safety tips, which begin long before the meat hits the heat.

by Bill Marler — 

In the interest of saving money, American families are cooking more meals at home and dining out less. This increasing trend of year-round barbecuing in Arizona, means that now, more than ever, it is essential for home cooks to understand how to protect themselves and their families from the threat of food-borne illness.

The following tools will help you to avoid becoming one of the 73,000 people stricken with E. coli O157:H7 each year in the United States. The majority of E. coli infections are thought to be food-borne-related, involving ground beef.

Until higher standards are in place throughout the entire food chain — from farmer to manufacturer to retailer — customers can only really rely on themselves to keep their families out of harm’s way. E. coli contamination cannot be seen and will happily contaminate good cuts of meat, as well as bad ones. Careful cooking in the kitchen and on the grill is a must.

The statistics are scary, but backyard chefs can dramatically reduce the risk of food-borne illness by following simple BBQ safety tips, which begin long before the meat hits the heat:

  • In the grocery store or farmer’s market, opt for low-risk meat products — this means avoiding ground beef if possible. Steaks can be cooked to varying degrees of doneness because any potential for microorganisms exists only on the surface. However, with ground beef, organisms are spread throughout the meat.
  • Refrigerate any meat as soon as you get home and always defrost it in the refrigerator, never on the counter. Do not eat any meat, poultry, eggs or sliced fruits and vegetables that have been left out for more than two hours.
  • The same goes for marinating. Do not think that a spicy marinade will kill bacteria. Always marinate meat in the refrigerator, not on the countertop.
  • Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat side dishes. Wash hands, counters and utensils with hot, soapy water after they come in contact with raw meat.
  • If you do decide to purchase ground meat for grilling burgers, live by the motto “grill it to kill it.” Cooking hamburgers to 160°F kills unwanted microorganisms, such as E. coli O157:H7, a potentially deadly food-borne illness. Grilling hamburgers to an internal temperature of 160°F is the only sure way to guarantee that they are fully cooked, so insert a tip-sensitive digital thermometer into several parts of the patties, including the thickest part, to make sure the meat has reached that temperature. Do not assume that because the burger is no longer pink, it is ready and perfectly safe to eat.
  • Never place your cooked hamburgers or ground beef on the unwashed plate that held raw patties, and wash meat thermometers in between tests of patties that require further cooking.

Following these simple but essential tips will ensure a healthy and delicious year-round season of barbequing.

 

Bill Marler, an attorney, has been a major force in food safety in the United States and abroad. His firm has represented thousands of people who have been sickened by unsafe foods. He also writes and speaks frequently about food safety and food-borne illness. www.marlerclark.com or www.billmarler.com.

Reprinted from AZNetNews, Volume 30, Number 3, June/July 2011.

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