May 27, 2005
Methodist Rehab chef offers tips for safe Memorial Day cookout
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Before firing up the grill for a backyard barbecue this Memorial Day weekend, Methodist Rehabilitation Center urges families to think first about outdoor cooking safety.
“Handling food properly, frequently washing hands and sanitizing utensils and platters is very important in maintaining food safety,” said John Pelton, director of nutrition services at Methodist Rehab. “You should follow proper cooking guidelines to assure food is properly thawed, fully cooked and bacteria free.”
He says that there are also other safety concerns such as keeping food cold when transporting it to the cookout site and making sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters for handling raw and fully cooked meat and poultry.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends thawing the meat or poultry in the refrigerator and never on a countertop. The outer section of the meat will thaw faster than the inside and will be exposed to temperatures in the danger zone, a temperature range between 40 °F to 140 °F that is favorable for bacteria growth such as E-coli and salmonella.
“Use an insulated cooler packed with adequate ice to transport the meat,” said Pelton. “Once you reach your cookout location, keep the meat insulated until ready to place it on the grill.”
Lauren Fairburn, coordinator of Think First, Methodist’s statewide safety and injury prevention program, says to always check the grill for cracks and leaks, place it at least 10 feet away from the house and never grill indoors.
“Never smoke while using a gas grill and do not allow children to play with the cylinder or grill,” says Fairburn.
Pelton’s tips for safe summer grilling include:
- Always clean and heat the grill before using it to remove debris and burn off bacteria.
- Keep the grill away from low-hanging tree branches.
- Keep food in the refrigerator until ready to be placed on the grill.
- Make sure your clothing doesn't hang over the grill by rolling up your sleeves and tucking in your shirt.
- When lighting a gas grill, always keep the lid open.
- Always follow the manufacturer's instructions that accompany the grill.
- Cook chicken breasts to 170 degrees Fahrenheit, hamburgers to 160 degrees and beef to at least 145 degrees.
- Don't put cooked food on the same plate that held raw food.
“People should always remember the two-hour rule when storing leftovers,” said Pelton. “Refrigerate all leftovers in containers within two hours of cooking because bacteria will multiply rapidly if left out for too long.”
For low fat grilling, Pelton recommends using vinegar-based marinades instead of oils. For every 1 ½ to 2 pounds of meat, use approximately 1 to 2 cups of marinade, says Pelton.
“Marinades help keep foods moist and tender and enhance the flavor,” says Pelton. “If you want to use the marinade as a table sauce, put some aside before placing the raw meat in the marinade.”
He adds that grilling is not just for meat and poultry and can be very healthy.
“Cooking fruits and vegetables on the grill gives added flavor without the fat,” said Pelton. “Just add a brush of olive oil or herbs to foods like squash, eggplant, pineapples and sweet onions and grill until tender.