Grill for Fun, Not Food-Borne Illness
Holiday Food Safety Rests With the Chef
The summer is here, and your grill is calling you. Americans
will consume millions of hamburgers and countless tubs of salad, coleslaw, and
potato salad this weekend with friends and family.
Don't let your cookout turn into a food poisoning
Experts agree that from the farm, to the manufacturing plant,
to the grocery store, your foods undergo the most rigorous safety monitoring of
anywhere in the world. But at the end of that food chain, it's the chefs in
your kitchen and at the backyard barbecue who can make or break the
Food-borne outbreaks are as likely to be due to careless
handling of food at home as they are to errors in the manufacturing and
processing of foods, says George Sandler, PhD, of the Illinois Institute of
Technology and the National Center for Food Safety and Technology, Chicago.
In preparing virtually every kind of food likely to be gracing
picnics and barbecues, "cross-contamination" is one of the most common
food safety mistakes, say food safety specialists at Kansas State University
Research and Extension Service. Cross-contamination happens when potentially
harmful, disease-causing organisms are transferred from one food to another.
For example, by using the same knife to cut raw meat, then vegetables.
This is one of the easiest mistakes to correct. Washing hands
before and after handling raw or cooked foods, using clean utensils and cutting
boards for each task, and remembering to place cooked meats on a different
plate than the one used for raw meat, can significantly reduce food-borne
illness, they say.
Now, about those burgers.
William Schaffner, MD, chair of preventive medicine at
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, tells WebMD that
undercooked ground beef can be a source of E. coli 0157:87, a bacteria
that can cause severe stomach distress, including vomiting and diarrhea. In the
worst cases -- especially in older people, children, or people whose immune
defenses are compromised -- contamination with E.coli can lead to kidney
Schaffner says the old wisdom that a burger browned on the
outside is a safe one, no longer applies.
"The main risk with E.coli is in ground beef,"
he says. "That's because the meat can become contaminated in the
slaughtering process. If you buy a steak contaminated on its surface and you
grill the steak, the bacteria get scorched."
Not so with ground beef, Schaffner says. "Here you take a
lot of steak, and the bacteria is ground up and mixed in. Now you have a patty
with bacteria on the surface and on the interior. That's why we say if you are
going to grill a hamburger, you should cook it all the way through -- no red
spots and no pink spots."