Keep food safety in mind when grilling this summer

Published 4:00 pm Friday, May 27, 2022

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It’s no secret that most people enjoy a good cookout during the summer months. While there are no rules about which foods should be served at a barbecue, there is a correct way to prepare grilled foods to ensure they’re safe.

With Memorial Day weekend serving as the unofficial start to grilling season, now’s a great time to brush up on food handling and cooking safety tips.

Melissa Chase, Virginia Tech Department of Food Science and Technology’s consumer food safety program manager, noted there are three basic principles to follow to ensure grilled food is prepared and served safely.

The first is to keep everything clean, Chase said. Cooks always should start with clean hands and continue washing them before and after handling any raw meat, poultry or seafood to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Fruits and vegetables also should be washed before they’re cooked, while meat, poultry and seafood should not. Rinsing or washing meat can increase the risk of cross-contamination between foods, as splashing water can accidentally spread bacteria onto ready-to-eat foods, surfaces or cooking utensils.

Secondly, raw meat should always be stored separately from ready-to-eat foods such as chips, salads and other snacks, as well as pre-washed produce. Raw meat also should be refrigerated below 40º until it’s ready to be cooked.

Cooks should use separate utensils to place foods on the grill and to remove them, and foods should be transferred onto clean, unused plates once they’re fully cooked. Meat and vegetable marinades should never be reused, nor should utensils or dishes that have touched raw foods.

Finally, grill operators should use a thermometer to ensure that food is cooked to safe internal temperatures.

Beef, fish, lamb and pork should be cooked to at least 145º; ground meats, including hamburgers and hot dogs, should be cooked to a minimum of 160º; and poultry should be cooked to 165º or higher to eliminate bacteria and reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

Chase emphasized the importance of having a food thermometer on hand to accurately read temperatures on thicker foods such as chops, roasts or steaks.

“Make sure you’re using that food thermometer to check the internal temperatures, because even though juices might be running clear, that’s not necessarily an indication that something is done,” Chase said. She also added that grills tend to cook the outside of foods much faster than the inside, underscoring the need for a thermometer.

Grillers also should familiarize themselves with safe grilling practices before barbecuing.