Get on your mark, get set, cook.
Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer. That means plenty of beef, pork, poultry and fish will be sizzling on the grills as area residents enjoy their summer season.
This is a time to relax with family, neighbors and friends. This is not a time for accidents.
The onset of grilling season often results in injuries and fires due to careless cooking practices, reports the American Red Cross.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, some 30 people are injured each year in 600-plus fires and explosions that involve gas grills.
Safety experts offer these tips to prevent grill accidents:
- Never grill indoors.
- Always supervise a grill when in use, and make sure everyone, including pets, stays away from the grill.
- Keep the grill out in the open, away from the house, the deck, tree branches, or anything that could catch fire.
- Use the long-handled tools especially made for cooking on the grill.
- Never add charcoal starter fluid when coals have already been ignited.
- Always follow the manufacturer's instructions when using grills.
- Be ready to close the lid and turn off the grill to cut off the fuel if necessary.
- Keep a fireproof pan under the grill to catch any falling ash or grease.
- Check grill hoses for cracking, brittleness, holes and leaks.
- Always keep propane gas containers upright.
- Never store spare gas containers under or near the grill, indoors or in a hot car.
- Move gas hoses as far away as possible from hot surfaces and dripping hot grease.
- Make sure the spark ignitor is working to create a flame, otherwise gas may be escaping and could explode.
Additionally, food safety is vital at the backyard barbecue.
Warm temperatures provide an inviting environment for bacteria to multiply rapidly and cause foodborne illness.
Cases of foodborne illness peak during the warm summer months. Many people like to include food in their outdoor activities, but may not realize that they need to be extra careful to keep that food safe.
Safe grilling techniques can depend on many factors such as the type of meat, its size and shape, the distance between the food and heat source, and the temperature of the coals.
Follow the tips below for a safe grilling season this summer.
- Remember that meat and poultry cooked on a grill tend to brown very fast on the outside so it is important to make sure that these foods are also properly cooked all the way through on the inside.
- For even heating, the USDA recommends preheating the coals on your grill for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the coals are lightly coated with ash.
- Use a meat thermometer to ensure food reaches a safe internal temperature.
- Hamburgers should be cooked to 160 degrees, while large cuts of beef such as roasts and steaks may be cooked to 145 degrees for medium rare or to 160 degrees for medium.
- Cook ground poultry to 165 degrees and poultry parts to 170 degrees.
- Fish should be opaque and flake easily.
- Reheat pre-cooked meats until steaming hot.
- Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood in sealed containers or plastic bags so juices will not cross-contaminate safely cooked foods or other items such as fruits and vegetables.
- Use a separate cutting board when handling raw meat products.
- When taking foods off the grill, do not put the cooked items back on the same plate that previously held raw food.
- Routinely wash hands before and after handling food. Unwashed hands are a prime cause of foodborne illness. Whenever possible, wash your hands with hot, soapy water before handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and handling pets.
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before moving on to the next food. Use plastic or other non-porous cutting boards and wash after each use.
- Consider using paper towels when cleaning up surfaces.
- Keep perishable foods such as meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, cold or frozen until ready to cook.
- Pack refrigerated perishables directly into a cooler to minimize the threat of bacterial growth.
- Pack plenty of extra ice or freezer packs to insure a constant cold temperature - a full cooler will maintain its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled.
- Store drinks in a separate cooler to avoid opening the food cooler frequently.
- Keep the cooler out of the trunk and place in the shade or shelter, out of the sun, whenever possible to help keep foods cold.
- Preserve the cold temperature of the cooler by replenishing the ice as soon as it starts melting.
- If a cooler chest is not an option, consider taking fruits, vegetables, hard cheeses, canned or dried meats, dried cereal, bread, peanut butter, crackers, and a bottle of refreshing beverage.
- Take-out foods: If you don't plan to eat take-out foods within two hours of purchase, plan ahead and chill the food in your refrigerator before packing for your outing.
- Food left out of refrigeration for more than two hours may not be safe to eat. At 90 degrees or above, food should not be left out over one hour.
- Play it safe; put leftover perishables back on ice once you finish eating so they do not spoil or become unsafe to eat.
- When in doubt, throw it out.