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Extension > Food > Food Safety > Preserving and Preparing > Meat and Fish > Safe Grilling Guidelines

Meat and Fish

Safe Grilling Guidelines

Carol Ann Burtness, Extension Educator — Food Safety

Revised 2011 by author; reviewed 2013.

Whenever grilling foods, follow basic guidelines because outdoor cooking presents many food safety challenges. Before preparing food, wash hands and keep all utensils, dishes and work areas as clean as possible.

Mishandling raw meat is often a cause of food borne illness. Completely defrost meat in the refrigerator so it cooks evenly on the grill. When defrosting in the microwave, place meat on the grill immediately. Partially cooked meat is the perfect place for bacteria to grow.

Color alone does not guarantee safe food because food browns very fast. The only way to know whether meat is grilled to a safe internal temperature is to insert a food thermometer into the center of the food.

Before serving, keep cooked meats hot, at 140 degrees or warmer, by setting them to the side of the grill rack where they will not overcook.

Do not allow meat to sit out for more than two hours, and limit to one hour if the outside temperature is higher than 90 degrees. Food that sits out longer should be thrown away because bacteria have grown and spread through the food.

After putting meat on the grill, wash hands before preparing anything else. Juice from the meat should not touch cooked meat or other parts of the meal, such as salad or fresh fruits and vegetables. Wash hands for 15 to 20 seconds using warm, soapy water.

When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter and utensils. Never reuse utensils that have touched raw meat with cooked, ready-to-eat foods.

Research suggests that grilling may raise the risk of some cancers. Grilling can cause red meats, poultry, game and fish to produce compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which may cause cancer. Also, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when fat drips onto hot coals or stones and can deposit back onto food by smoke and flare-ups.

The American Cancer Society states that eating moderate amounts of grilled foods does not pose a problem if they are not charred. To prevent charring, follow these tips:

  1. Cook meats at lower temperatures by turning the gas down or waiting for charcoal to become low-burning embers
  2. Raise the grilling surface from the heat source
  3. Marinate; it can reduce the amount of HCAs by as much as 92 to 99 percent
  4. Use lean meat and trim visible fat
  5. Use tongs or a spatula to turn food and flip meat every minute
  6. Remove all charred portions before serving

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