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Meat and Fish

Safe grilling guidelines

Carol Ann Burtness

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.

Thaw meat in the refrigerator

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.

Use a food thermometer to check doneness

Color does not guarantee safe food because food browns at different rates. The only way to know whether meat is grilled to a safe minimum internal temperature is to use a food thermometer. Insert the thermometer into two or three places including the thickest part of the food.

Safe food handling tips so you don't get sick

Before serving, keep cooked meats hot, at 140° F 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° F. 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.

Tips to reduce cancer causing compounds from grilling

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%
  4. Use lean meat and trim visible fat
  5. Use tongs or a spatula to turn food and flip meat often
  6. Remove all charred portions before serving

Related resources

Revised by Kathy Brandt 2017

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