For many people, Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer. That means the return of weekend getaways to the beach and the reemergence of the backyard barbecue.
Summer grilling season is the perfect time to gather with friends and family in a laid back atmosphere where formal attire is forgotten in favor of flip flops and T-shirts. But as relaxed as a backyard barbecue can be, it also can quickly turn into a potentially dangerous or unhealthy situation, especially when the trusted grillmaster doesn't take the following safety precautions regarding his grill and the foods he's preparing.
* Don't let foods sit out for hours. The United States Department of Agriculture advises grillmasters to refrigerate or freeze meat within two hours of purchasing it. Leaving food out next to the grill for a few hours increases the risk of foodborne illness. Though it might be more convenient to keep foods within spitting distance of the grill when you're preparing to host a barbecue, you could be putting yourself and your guests at risk if food is left out too long.
* Change cooking tools and plates when foods are cooked. When transporting food from the refrigerator to the grill, make sure the plate or containers you use to transport uncooked food are not used again until they have been thoroughly washed. Never use the same plate for preparation and serving. The same goes for tools like spatulas and tongs. Bacteria from uncooked foods can attach themselves to plates and cooking utensils, so cooked foods should always be picked up with clean tools and placed on clean plates before serving.
* Cook foods to the correct temperature. Undercooked foods are unhealthy and can cause significant health problems. The USDA recommends grillmasters cook these popular barbecue foods to minimum temperatures:
- Hamburgers -- 16O F
- Poultry -- 165 F
- Beef -- 145 F
- Ground meats -- 160 F
- Pork -- 145 F
- Lamb -- 145 F
* Keep a fire extinguisher on hand. When grilling, you're cooking foods over an open flame. This is true if your grill is a gas grill or a more traditional charcoal grill. The presence of open flames is a safety risk, so keep a fire extinguisher on hand in case a fire unexpectedly starts.
* Grill away from your house. Grills play a role in thousands of home fires every year. When placed too close to a home or in a poorly ventilated area on your property, the risk of a fire increases dramatically. When grilling, always choose a well-ventilated area, avoiding enclosed areas such as a covered patio, that's a significant distance away from your home. This reduces the risk of the home lighting on fire should a grill fire erupt.
* Go easy on the lighter fluid. Lighter fluid can be very dangerous, especially for those grillmasters with a happy trigger finger. When using a charcoal grill, look for charcoal that already contains lighter fluid and needs only a lit match to light. If you must use more traditional charcoal, use only a minimum amount of lighter fluid and never apply additional fluid once the fire has started.
Grilling season has arrived and backyard barbecues have once again taken center stage. When grilling this summer, be sure to take certain precautions to protect against foodborne illness and fire.