Grill smart: Safety tips for barbecue season

While summer is coming to an end, barbecue season continues into the fall for many Canadians.

But while it can be fun to bring out the grill and crack open the cooler, grilling season presents a few possible dangers you should prepare for.

Food poisoning
It is estimated that over 11 million Canadians get food poisoning each year.

Food poisoning symptoms are familiar to most people – they include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, with younger and older people at higher risk of complications.

Food poisoning typically occurs when harmful bacteria grows on food that isn’t kept at the proper temperature. However, poisoning can also occur when food is contaminated through other means (e.g. processing machines that aren’t properly cleaned, accidental exposure to pesticides).

Some bacteria can cause more severe symptoms. E. coli can cause problems with the kidneys and other organs, while Listeria can cause flu-like symptoms and lead to meningitis. Complications like these can be deadly, so it’s important to take preventative measures.

The Danger Zone
When dealing with food, always avoid the Danger Zone:  4 C to +60 C (40 F to 140 F). Foods held in this temperature range will grow harmful bacteria in a couple of hours, and this temperature range is a lot more common when hot summer temperatures hang into the fall. On hot days, Health Canada recommends not keeping food out for more than one hour – even if it’s frozen.

The safest way to thaw meat is on the bottom shelf of your fridge. You can also thaw sealed meat in cold running water (or cold still water, if you replace it every half hour). You can thaw meat in the microwave, as long as you cook it immediately.

When meat isn’t on the grill, it should be in a cooler or a fridge. Health Canada recommends a separate cooler for drinks, since those are opened more often (letting warm air in and cold air out).

When you’re cooking, use a digital food thermometer to ensure the meat reaches proper internal temperature. Here’s what Health Canada recommends:

  • Take the meat off the grill and measure it on a clean plate
  • Insert the thermometer through the thickest pieces of meat
  • If you’re cooking hamburgers, insert the thermometer through the side – and do it for every patty
  • Don’t cross contaminate – clean the thermometer in soapy water between readings

When you’re finished eating, refrigerate your leftovers as soon as possible.

Barbecue Safety
Just as it’s important to take precautions around food storage and handling, it’s also important to use caution around the barbecue.

Whether you’ve been using your barbecue for months or bringing it out for the first time, Health Canada recommends inspecting it before use. Check for blocked burners or tubes, and make sure fittings and hoses aren’t damaged or leaking. Also, ensure the barbecue is clean and free of grease build-up.

Since a barbecue can create carbon monoxide, only use it outdoors in a well-ventilated area. Avoid placing it near any open windows.

Barbecue brushes
When the grill is dirty, some Canadians reach for their metal barbecue brushes. These brushes, covered in metal bristles, are often considered the most effective method of scraping grime off the grill.

But with repeated use, the thin metal bristles can fall out and stick to the grill – and sometimes end up in food.

In 2017, at least nine Canadians ingested metal bristles from barbecue brushes. These bristles aren’t easy to remove, either. In 2014, an Alberta woman underwent two surgeries to remove the bristle from her throat – but doctors couldn’t find it in either surgery, concluding that it had been dislodged and worked its way through her digestive tract.

These incidents have prompted the federal government to develop manufacturing standards to avoid future accidents.

Until standards are created, it’s a good idea to avoid metal brushes and move toward alternatives.

Cut your cancer risk
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, grilling meat increases your cancer risk, as cooking at high temperatures creates carcinogens.

To prevent this, the organization recommends you:

  • Grill slowly – meat cooked at a lower temperature will have fewer carcinogens
  • Marinate beforehand, as marinade helps prevent carcinogens from forming
  • Choose lower-fat meats and trim excess fat beforehand, since burning fat creates carcinogens
  • Partially cook meat in the microwave or a traditional oven before putting it on the grill – the less time on the grill the better

What is Blue Advantage?

The Blue Advantage program allows Blue Cross members to save on medical, vision care and many other products and services offered by participating providers across Canada. The program is unique because it provides discounts at point of sale on the total cost of products and services from participating providers across Canada, regardless of whether the item is covered under your benefit plan. Simply present your Blue Cross identification card to the participating provider and mention the Blue Advantage program. Blue Advantage is just one more way Blue Cross is working in your community to offer members access to affordable, quality services and products that can help them make healthy lifestyle choices.

We encourage you to visit regularly to learn where you might find health care savings that are available in your area.

Don't keep it a secret!

You've read about it… you may already be benefitting from it. You know Blue Advantage can help you save money. That's why you've signed up for this newsletter. So spread the word to others you know with Blue Cross coverage. We’re always adding new vendors to offer Canadians new opportunities to save!

A complete list of participating providers can be found at
Provider information is provided solely for the purpose of advising our members of savings currently available. It is not our intention to suggest preference for any particular product or company. Responsibility for the product and final cost remains solely between the member and the provider. Providers are not required to provide the Blue Advantage discounts to members or their dependents on products that are subject to other special sales or coupon promotions at the time of purchase. The list of providers and/or the type of savings available are subject to change without notice. For the most current information contact the store directly or visit
Please do not respond directly to this e-mail. The originating e-mail account is not monitored. Please call or visit our website for more information

Blue Cross Blue Shield
Copyright © 2016 Canadian Association of Blue Cross Plans. All rights reserved. ® Registered trademarks of the Canadian Association of Blue Cross Plans, an association of independent Blue Cross Plans.