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.
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.
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.
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