Hot off the grill: BBQ safety in the summer sun

The smell of food on the grill is almost inescapable during the summer, especially in Madison. And while you may associate it with good friends and good times, a few simple steps can go a long way toward assuring you have a safe and healthy time.

The big chill: A safe grilling experience starts before you leave the grocery store. Keep raw meat and poultry separate from the rest of the groceries in your cart to avoid cross-contamination between raw meat or poultry juices.

Once you arrive at home, put meat and poultry in the refrigerator as soon as you can. Freeze any meat you won’t be cooking that day. If you have to thaw meat, use the refrigerator or submerge the meat in cold water in the sink; putting food on the counter to thaw at room temperature is an invitation for bacteria to join the party.

Hot ‘n’ cold: The golden rule of serving picnic food – keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. If you use a cooler to transport food, load the cooler with ice or frozen gel packs to maintain a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and keep it in the shade.

Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison

Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison

Likewise, partially precooking food beforehand can save you time, but be sure to transfer food immediately to a warm grill.

Happiness is a warm grill: Once you get the food over a flame, the priority is to cook food to a minimum internal temperature that is hot enough to destroy harmful bacteria. The external appearance of grilled foods can be misleading – meat and poultry typically brown very fast on the outside before cooking adequately on the inside.

It may be tempting to give your foods the eye test to determine if they’re fully cooked, but a food thermometer is the best bet to ensure a safe minimum internal temperature has been reached. These temps will vary by food:

Bon appétit: Once your food is ready to serve, remember not to let different types of meats comingle. Never reuse plates or utensils that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood without first washing with hot, soapy water.

Don’t neglect food even when it’s cooked. Set meat to the side of the grill rack, not directly over a flame where it could overcook. Just like with cold food, hot foods should not sit out for more than two hours. If it is left out longer, throw it out for good measure. Leftovers should be refrigerated quickly.

Keep these tips in mind the next time you head out to the park or your backyard. A little vigilance with food preparation and storage can help you experience a safe and healthy grilling experience.

Written by Ben Vincent, UHS Web and Publications Editor

Feeling blue and seeing green: Blue-green algae 101

Odds are that if you’ve spent a summer in Wisconsin, you’ve heard of blue-green algae and its ability to shut down our beaches and, in turn, our summertime fun. But what exactly is blue-green algae, and why should you know about it?

Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison

Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison

A little background…

Blue-green algae, or pond scum, is actually not algae at all, but rather a photosynthetic bacterium known as cyanobacteria. It is colloquially referred to as blue-green algae due to its coloration, but the cyanobacteria can also be red or brownish in color. In large quantities, the cyanobacterium tend to float on the waters’ surface in large mat-like patches, known as blooms. During these blooms, cyanobacteria can produce toxins that are potentially harmful to humans and other animals. Not all blooms produce toxins, but as Stephen Carpenter, the Director for the Center for Limnology at UW-Madison, notes, “you cannot tell if cyanobacteria are making toxins simply by looking at them,” and an in-depth chemical analysis is required to determine the potency of the algae. “It’s best to assume that cyanobacteria are dangerous,” says Carpenter.

On exposure

“Exposure to cyanobacteria most commonly causes upset stomach or skin rash,” Carpenter explains. However, in extreme cases, more adverse consequences can occur, especially when the toxins are ingested. “The toxins affect the nervous system and liver. They can cause rapid death by respiratory failure.” For these reasons, it is important to take the necessary precautions to prevent exposure.


Avoid swimming in areas that have blue-green algae. The City of Madison Parks Department and Public Health of Madison and Dane County track toxin and algae levels on their websites, so check if your beach is safe prior to swimming. If you see anything like the image above, don’t come into contact with the water and let a lifeguard or public health official know. If you are with pets, keep them out of the water as well. If you think you may have come into contact with cyanobacteria, rinse off immediately with fresh water and self-monitor for symptoms of poisoning, such as skin rash, chapped lips and blisters, sore throat, headache, muscular pain, respiratory difficulty, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Contact a health care provider if you observe any of these symptoms.

Written by Gina Nerone, UHS Web and Communications Assistant

Need health insurance? Not sure? Read more about SHIP

Who needs health insurance?
EVERYONE! Unfortunately, unexpected accidents and illnesses do occur and students without comprehensive insurance are more likely to drop out of school for financial or health-related reasons.

What about University Health Services?
All enrolled students are eligible for the medical and counseling care available at University Health Services, but UHS is not a substitute for health insurance. UHS is not open evenings and weekends and does not provide emergency care, hospitalization, or specialty care for complex problems.

I already have health insurance. How can I tell if it is good enough?
Even if you already have health insurance, you need to be aware of the following:

  • Employer plans often limit coverage to emergency room care while you are out of the plan area, and you may have to take time off school to return to your hometown for treatment.
  • Even in their home area, some plans have increasingly narrow provider networks. As a result it can be difficult for enrollees to access key services such as mental health.
  • Many plans require enrollees to pay a large portion of their medical costs. High deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance can make enrollees reluctant, or unable to seek medical attention when they need it.

Five reasons to choose the UW-Madison Student Health Insurance Plan

  1. SHIP is designed specifically for UW–Madison students. Meeting the needs of our students is our motivation—not profit.
  2. UHS provides primary and preventive care on campus, keeping costs as low as possible.
  3. SHIP travels with you. SHIP members are protected by a nationwide network of hospitals, clinics, and specialized medical services.
  4. SHIP has low member cost-sharing, with an in-network deductible of $600.
  5. Value. For many students, SHIP offers “Gold +” level coverage at a “Bronze” price.

Other SHIP benefits include:

  • Preventive care, including 100% coverage for:
    • Meningococcal vaccine
    • HPV vaccine
    • Travel immunizations
    • Contraceptives
    • Annual eye exam
  • Prescription drug benefit (including specialty medications)
  • Available coverage for spouse, domestic partner, and children
  • Worldwide assistance
  • On-campus customer service team
  • And much more!

Click here to view the 2015-16 domestic student plan benefits and premium rates »

Fall coverage is effective from August 15, 2015 and enrollments must be received by September 14, 2015.

Registered students can enroll online, in the SHIP office, by telephone, or by mail.

Parents can enroll their registered student in the SHIP office, by telephone, or by mail.

Click here for additional information and to enroll online.

Harvest Handouts

Student organization brings local produce, fresh from the garden, to you

Each Friday afternoon throughout the summer and fall, a line of students and campus community members who are eager to indulge in fresh, local produce forms in front of UHS on East Campus Mall.

Harvest Handouts, run by the student organization F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture, delivers high-quality, sustainably grown produce on a first-come, first-serve basis free of charge.

Named for the late UW-Madison professor Franklin Hiram King, who is considered to be the father of sustainable agriculture and soil physics, F.H. King distributes produce to nearly 200 people each week.

Photo: Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin

Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison

This is a way of providing students with fresh, free produce,” said Morgan Menke, F.H. King’s administrative director and an undergraduate majoring in Community and Nonprofit Leadership. “It’s also an opportunity to educate students about the benefits of sustainable agriculture and new types of vegetables and ways to cook them.”

Leafy greens including lettuce, kale, and spinach, as well as root crops such as beets and radishes, are available early in the growing season (June and July). As the bounty increases later in the summer, green beans, cucumbers, broccoli, zucchini, and a variety of herbs are available.

F.H. King student interns and volunteers harvest the produce from a student farm at the Eagle Heights Garden on Friday mornings, then sustainably transport the harvest by trailers attached to Full Cycle Freight bikes to East Campus Mall for Harvest Handouts.

Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison

Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison

“It’s a sense of trust knowing that your food was grown in a way that benefits the soil as well as your body,” said Menke. “I also think it’s comforting to know that the food you get from Harvest Handouts was grown amongst friends.”

Nearly the entire bounty of produce grown in the student garden is distributed at Harvest Handouts each week. Produce that is not given away is donated to local food shelters.

Harvest Handouts is set up outside of 333 East Campus Mall on Fridays beginning at 1 p.m. and distributes produce until it’s gone. Remember to bring your reusable bag!

For more information on Harvest Handouts and F.H. King, visit

Written by Kelsey Anderson, UHS Health Communications Specialist