Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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Cookout safety

I’m thinking of getting a grill. I’ve never used one, and no one in my house is  clamoring for a cookout. But the lure of a semi-charred hot dog is strong.

So, I’ve been reading up on what it takes to become a grill-master, and here are two things I’ve learned are key to a successful cookout:

Step 1: Don’t give anyone food poisoning.

Step 2:  Don’t set yourself or anyone else on fire.

I’m sure even grilling veterans flub up sometimes. So below is some advice on food and fire safety.

First, some tips from the United States Department of Agriculture website on preventing food sickness:

  • Keep food cold until you put it on the grill. In other words, don’t let meat and poultry sit outside while you play a round of badminton.
  • Thaw first. Meat and poultry cooks more evenly when it’s fully thawed.
  • Keep everything clean. Absolutely, positively don’t use the same plates for cooked food as for raw food.
  • Cook thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to  make sure food is hot enough before serving it. How hot is hot enough?

     – a minimum of 145 degrees for beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops and roasts;

    – 160 degrees for ground beef, pork, veal and lamb;

    – 165 degrees for poultry;

    – 165 degrees for pre-cooked meats such as hot dogs.

    The USDA didn’t note this, but I’ve read elsewhere that fish also should be heated to 145 degrees.

  • Don’t let food sit out. When it’s 90 degrees or hotter, either refrigerate food or toss it after an hour outside. (This goes for meat and other perishable foods, such as eggs and dishes made with dairy.)

Another way to prevent food poisoning: Grill veggies and fruits, and forego the meat. Just be sure to thoroughly wash the veggies and fruits first.

And now, to keep the fire department away, here’s some advice from the Home Safety Council and the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association:

  • Make sure your grill is at least 10 feet away from trees, bushes, your house and anything else that could catch on fire.
  • If you use a starter fluid, use only a fluid that’s made specifically for starting a fire in a charcoal grill.
  • If you’re using a gas grill, check for leaks. If you detect one, be sure the gas is turned off, and don’t attempt to light the grill.
  • Keep the grill stable so it can’t tip over.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Never leave a hot grill unattended.
  • Use long-handled utensils.

Tomorrow: Is grilled food carcinogenic?