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Grill Safely this Summer

Image of a grill

Whether it's a backyard barbeque or a poolside picnic, chances are your summer plans include cooking and eating outdoors. While grilling is a healthy way to prepare lean meats and vegetables, it can also pose a food safety risk.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year one in six Americans will get sick from contaminated foods or beverages. Roughly 3,000 people will die from foodborne illness.

While food safety is important year-round, summertime presents additional challenges. Anytime you have food sitting out in warm weather, it is at risk. Add to that the special challenges presented by grilling and you have what could be a recipe for foodborne illness.

While grilling is a popular summertime cooking method, many people do not take the precautions necessary to ensure that the food they grill is cooked properly and safely. Because grilling is not an exact science, cooking times can vary by a lot, depending on the heat of the grill and the type and cut of meat. Getting meat to the right temperature isn't as easy as following a recipe.

Fortunately, the key to ensuring meat is cooked to the proper temperature is simple and cheap - use a meat thermometer [see inset for recommended temperatures]. But according to the USDA, only 34 percent of Americans use a thermometer when cooking hamburgers on the grill.

In addition to monitoring food temperature, there are other steps you should take to ensure food safety even before the meat hits the grill. First, meat needs to be kept contained and separate from other foods in the refrigerator. Check out the packaging on meat - if it is leaking or dripping, put it on a plate or in a bag. Clean up any spills thoroughly.

If you use a marinade, do not reuse the same marinade as a sauce. Rather, reserve some marinade and keep it separate from the raw meat. And never allow meat to marinate at room temperature.

Raw meat needs to stay cold [41 degrees or cooler] until it is cooked. Do not leave meat to thaw on the kitchen counter or to sit in marinade at room temperature."

Pay attention to the cutting boards and utensils you use with raw meat. Never reuse a cutting board or plate that had raw meat on it without thoroughly washing with hot, soapy water. And don't use the same utensils on raw and cooked foods.

Be sure to refrigerate any leftovers quickly. Food needs to be kept at 41 degrees or below to prevent bacteria growth.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, meats should be tested with a food thermometer and cooked to the following temperatures (Fahrenheit):

  • Ground beef, pork, veal, lamb: 160 degrees
  • Ground turkey and chicken: 165 degrees
  • Beef, pork, veal and lamb roasts or steaks: 145 degrees (with a 3-minute rest time)
  • Whole pieces of poultry, including chicken and turkey: 165 degrees

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