It’s time to bring out the outdoor grill, clean it up, and start preparing memorable meals this weekend. But experts warn that grilling can be dangerous to your health if you don’t take some basic precautions.
“I love how food tastes when it’s prepared on a grill,” says renowned chef Gerard Viverito, an associate professor in culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.
“It’s so much fun to create a meal outdoors with family and friends nearby. But while outdoor cooking is an American tradition, common mistakes, such as marinating with the wrong oil, and improper preparation and storing of food, can lead to disaster.”
Gerard, a well-known radio and television figure whose culinary emphasis is using nutritional ingredients to gain healthful results, tells Newsmax Health the key to a happy, and healthy holiday meal, involves careful planning. Here are his tips:
Before you grill:
- Thaw meat in the refrigerator. Defrosting food on the counter encourages the growth of disease causing pathogens such as listeria and salmonella.
- Thaw proteins completely before grilling. “That’s the best way to ensure your food cooks evenly,” says Gerard. “Use a meat thermometer in the thicket part to ensure doneness.” Healthy internal temperatures are: poultry, 180 degrees; burgers, 160 degrees; pork 160 degrees; and steaks, 145 for medium rare and 160 degrees for medium.
- If you are marinating, avoid using olive oil which can break down at high temperatures into dangerous carcinogens. Gerard prefers using Malaysian sustainable palm oil that can stand up to high heat.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before transferring food to the grill.
Cooking with charcoal or propane:
- To avoid inhaling smoke and help prevent accidental fire, position the grill away from your house, and out from under eaves and tree branches. Each year, home grilling is responsible for thousands of home fires and burns that require hospital care.
- Start with a clean grill. A buildup of extra grease and fat can cause a flash fire, in addition to contaminating your food with potential carcinogens.
- Only use charcoal starter fluid with a charcoal grill. Stay safe by never adding flammable fluid once a fire has started. And if your grill does catch fire, the safest way to extinguish the flame is to close the top of the grill and turn off the gas.
- Keep meat and vegetables separate on a grill. You want to keep meat drippings from falling on your vegetables. “That’s because vegetables don’t cook long enough to destroy any bacteria present in the drippings,” says Gerard.
Serving your food:
- Always transfer cooked food onto a clean latter. Don’t use the same plate that you just used for the raw food.
- Keep food hot until it’s served. Move it off the fire but keep it on the warm grill or use a hot plate. Hot Logic hotlogicmini.com/collections/buy-now, a Michigan-based company, produces a series of low-cost covered hot plates and mini ovens that can keep food warm until it’s ready to be eaten. “Very hot food and very cold food is the safest, but since most people like to eat foods somewhere in the middle, this can be a problem,” says Gerard. “We call it the temperature danger zone where bacteria multiply exponentially.”
- Throw away any burned or charred portions before eating. The char and soot may contain dangerous chemicals or carcinogens.
- Keep flies away from food. Use food covers to keep insects from sharing your meal and spreading germs.
Treat leftovers with care:
- Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible to reduce the risk of food spoilage and poisoning.
- Discard food that’s been sitting out for two hours or more. “I go crazy when I see people eating potato salad made with mayonnaise that’s been left outside for hours,” says Dr. Kevin Rodgers, president of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. “Don’t take a chance if food safety is questionable. Food poisoning can cause serious dehydration through vomiting and diarrhea.”
- Don’t eat unwashed fruits or veggies. “It’s also important to wash all produce, like those tasty tomatoes you are serving over the burgers or the salad greens,” warns Gerard. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that salad greens caused 8,838 cases of food borne illness between 1998 and 2008, so always be diligent in washing lettuce, escarole, spinach, cabbage, kale and arugula before serving.”
“Grilling is fun and delicious,” says Gerard. “With a few precautions, you can keep food-borne pathogens, fires, and exposure to carcinogens from spoiling one of best warm weather pastimes.”
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