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.
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