When the rich, savory smell of grilled meat wafts through the neighborhood, it's a sure sign that summer has arrived. Grilling isn't just a tradition, it also can be one of the healthiest ways to cook. There's no oil to add extra fat and calories; no heavy breading or frying to weigh grilled meat down.
Yet there are a few dangers lurking under that grill cover. Undercooked or improperly prepared meats can lead to a nasty case of food poisoning. Eating charred grilled meats too often could increase the risk for certain types of cancer.
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Here's the beef on grill safety and tips on how to grill the right way, so you can enjoy cookouts without having to worry.
Food Safety Tips
Each year, 76 million Americans are diagnosed with food poisoning, most often from eating undercooked meat, poultry, and other animal products. Bacteria such as E. coli and salmonellaare regular residents in chicken, beef, and meats. If you don't cook meat to a high enough temperature to kill the bacteria, they can wind up in the intestinal tract and lead to symptoms like vomiting, stomachcramps, and diarrhea. Usually food poisoning is mild, but it can get serious enough to send 325,000 people to the hospital each year.
Separate food. Keep raw meat away from fruits, vegetables, and any other foods you're going to eat without cooking, to avoid bacterial cross-contamination. Cut raw meats on a different surface than other foods. Then wash every cutting board, plate, and utensil the raw meat touched with hot water and soap. Always use new serving plates and utensils for cooked food.
Clean up. Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before preparing food and after handling raw meat. Ask the same of anyone else who is going to be handling food.
Keep it cold. Store meat and poultry in the refrigerator until you're ready to grill it. If you have any meat left over from grilling, either keep it warm (140 F or hotter) or put it in the fridge within two hours (within 1 hour if the temperature outside is over 90 F). Freeze any ground meat or poultry that you don't use within 1-2 days.
Cook it through. Your burger might look done on the outside, but it could still be raw on the inside. Internal color isn't a reliable guide of whether or not it is cooked. To be certain that meat is cooked thoroughly, insert a food thermometer into the thickest part of the meat and keep cooking until it reaches these temperatures:
Beef roasts or steaks: Medium rare 145 F; medium 160 F; well done 170 F
Pork: 160 F
Fish: 145 F
Hot dogs: 165 F or steaming hot
Keep food covered when you're not eating it to prevent insects from making a snack of your meal. Bugs pick up germs on their feet and bodies and then deposit those germs wherever they land. If you see an insect crawling on your food, throw that piece away. That bug's last stop might have been a pile of garbage -- or worse.